Mobile Heroes

Turner Kirk by Turner Kirk | March 29, 2021

Turner Kirk is Growth Marketing Manager at Earnin. Before his current role, Turner drove growth at Smule for over eight years, raising 50 million monthly active users and $100 million in yearly revenue. After extensive feats at Smule, Turner’s love for all things mobile performance and growth data fell into place. In this blog, Turner shares how he scaled user acquisition at his former job and optimized monetization for MOOV INC’s Sanity & Self app.

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In the early days of a mobile app’s lifecycle, the goal for user acquisition is simple—generate a high volume of installs at a low CPI. This is especially true in the case of apps launching as a minimum viable product (MVP). App marketers have a general idea of product-market fit, but retaining highly engaged users might turn out to be a bit (or a lot) different than expected. After figuring out personas on the first try, there will always be a need to identify new personas and reach more audiences with greater engagement.

So how do we find these users and acquire them efficiently? How do we build a feedback loop between high-value users and acquisition campaigns that goes beyond using lookalike audiences? These are the million-dollar questions. In this article, I share what I learned developing a content-driven growth strategy at Sanity & Self. This approach works particularly well for content-heavy apps (many subscription apps), but the basic concepts and learnings around cross-team cohesion are universal.

Launching The MVP

For Sanity & Self, we launched roughly 400 pieces of content in a variety of categories. Our primary persona was “new moms,” although the content could appeal to all women aged 20-50 years old. We initially launched with half of our creative targeted to new moms and the other with a general branded approach. It became apparent that new moms were NOT the right target market. This is one of the things I love about paid acquisition. The numbers don’t lie, and failing is easy to recover from as long as we listen, learn, and iterate quickly.

Customer Feedback: A Double-Edged Sword

Thankfully our product, content, and community teams were conducting user interviews to understand who the users were and what motivated them to use our app. The interviews provided invaluable, early insights into what types of product features and content to focus on. The language people used to describe our app and content also offered ideas for creative messaging. 

However, user interviews only sample from a small cross-section of users. They also have the unfortunate effect of incentivizing people to say positive things. Most are unsure of what they want or are embarrassed to say what they really want. In the case of Sanity & Self, this became apparent with sensitive categories like sex. This behavioral feature of user interviews became a sticking point later in the process.

Through user feedback, we now had a positive direction to move in. The content team developed more content and a couple of new categories; the product team re-arranged the content and made new features; I expanded our messaging, audience, and personas to acquire more users. 

Our collaboration proved to be better than the initial approach but was still sluggish to iterate on and not quite as effective as it needed to be. We needed to quickly expand our product offering, attract engaged users, convert them faster, and lower CPAs. How could we achieve this trifecta?

Breaking Out Of Silos

Up until this point, product, content, and acquisition operated separately. Not wholly siloed but close to it. We shared ideas and user insights, but it was adhoc—separately analyzing data related to respective roles and goals. The product team looked at user engagement from a product perspective; I looked at KPIs from the lens of user acquisition; the content team didn’t have an analyst (oops!), so they primarily developed new content that already existed and what the users told us. These are the woes of a small team.

Aligning Strategy for Content

Tighter integration was key. Since the content was a core part of our product, it seemed like the best place to align strategies. Aligning content acted as a way of addressing our biggest, immediate problems.

The first step was to thoroughly analyze engagement and conversion across all content, which promptly yielded rich insights. We prioritized a few categories (relationships, confidence, stress, and anxiety) based on what we thought was working and what users had told us. The majority of the content catered towards these categories and minimal on others. Once we looked at the data, the most underserved categories had the highest engagement and conversion rates. 

This brings me back to the issue of heavily relying on user feedback for product direction. Categories with the highest engagement happened to be where people were uncomfortable talking about (e.g., sex or being hung up on an ex). We were also able to identify trends within our biggest category, relationships, which suggested a heavier focus on the breakup subcategory.

Armed with a granular view of what content engaged and converted, we: 

  • Produced additional content in the areas showing promise
  • Developed aligning messaging and creative themes for acquisition  

To increase activation and conversion, we did the following: 

  • Implemented Deferred Deep Linking to identify which ad users saw (working about 85% of the time)
  • Tailored the onboarding and First Time User Experience (FTUE) to align with the ad content  

Now, if someone saw an ad about getting over their ex—a surprisingly common problem, but one most don’t like talking about—we prioritize the breakup category content. On top of that, we personalize the user content journey based on what other users in the breakup bucket are actively engaging with.

This alignment of strategy across the entire team created a feedback loop. This enabled us to discover which content we needed to create more of, helped lower acquisition costs, and increased engagement and conversions. Win win win! Of course, we still needed to run a ton of split tests to further hone in on audiences and test small messaging tweaks to improve performance, but the alignment on content produced immediate results.

Content alignment may seem obvious, but it requires a significant shift in how growth marketers are doing things. It calls for communication, collaboration, data collection and, most importantly, making it accessible across teams. Sometimes, the most effective strategies are hiding in plain sight. 

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