Keyboard apps are part of the everyday routine–which is why they also represent a new (and still untapped) opportunity for marketers and brands to drive deeper user engagement with the help of stickers and other perks. Our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with Josh Fenn, Baidu marketing manager responsible for North America marketing within Baidu’s global business unit, to discuss how marketers can use keyboard apps to power effective UA and build brand. Josh also talks about the growing user community, walks us through Baidu’s popular keyboard apps and discusses the role of AI in efforts to make campaigns more targeted and effective.[ultimate_exp_section title=”Transcript” title_alignment=”left”]Peggy: Welcome to Mobile Growth, the podcast series where frontline growth marketing experts share their insights and experiences, so you can become a better mobile marketer. That’s what it’s all about here at Mobile Growth. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz from Mobile Growth and on my watch, this series will consistently introduce you to the people you need to know because they know how to drive growth. Now, we’ve been through app marketing experts, we’ve talked to some vendors who enable app marketing experts to drive growth at their companies. And now we’re gonna switch gears and we’re gonna look at some opportunities as well that you need to know as an app marketer, as an app owner in the business. And my guest today is Josh Fenn, he is Baidu marketing manager responsible for North America marketing within Baidu’s global business unit. Josh, great to have you here, thanks for joining me.
Josh: Thanks, Peggy. Great to be here.
Peggy: We talked about this unit within Baidu. So, I think we need to understand what this is and how this fits in with the rest of Baidu.
Josh: Sure. So, I think it might be beneficial to take a step back and just give a brief, you know, overview about Baidu. For anyone who doesn’t know, Baidu operates the largest search engine in China, we have around over 70% market share of the domestic search market in China. But we also have a suite of other products, many like ancillary products, like maps, et cetera and, you know, App Store within China. And Baidu’s global business unit is primarily focused on exploring any growth opportunities outside of that domestic market. We have offices worldwide and the global business unit actually is headquartered in Japan, in Tokyo.
Peggy: So, I knew about Baidu because I know about the search engine, but this is, of course, a different area we’re talking about. We’re talking about, as I understand it, the opportunity with keyboard apps and also the opportunity for app marketers there. I mean, is it a new activity within Baidu?
Josh: No, it’s not really a new activity. So, you mentioned keyboard apps, we have two, I would say two types of product tracks at Baidu global business unit. The first is our consumer-facing products that those are primarily the keyboard apps that you mentioned. And the second is our business-facing products. I’ll talk about the keyboard apps first because that’s the main focus of our chat today. So essentially, over the course of our history, global business unit’s history, we’ve launched keyboard apps in Japan, in China, and most recently in the States. Our Chinese keyboard app is very popular, as is our Japanese keyboard app. The Japanese one is actually, it’s called Simeji, and it’s now the most popular free keyboard app in Japan on iOS and Android. And the app that our team in…we’re based out of Sunnyvale, is most intimately responsible for is called Facemoji Keyboard. And this is our foray into I would say western markets primarily. Facemoji Keyboard was launched in 2016, and to date we already have over 100 million installs worldwide. So it has, you know, quite a lot of momentum.
Peggy: So, for our listeners who don’t quite get their head around this to begin with, I mean, a keyboard app, that’s the app that allows me to input text, but also, you know, emoji, and I guess, you know, the stickers, the whole bit, it’s that type of experience. But is it something more than that?
Josh: Yeah, I think this is kind of an interesting thing when we talk to marketers about it, you know, and advertisers too, because first of all, a lot of people, it kind of flies under their radar. Because they’re not users of keyboard apps, they might be, you know, outside of that age range, or it just may not have been something that was during their experience using smartphones they somehow missed that wave. But keyboard apps essentially allow the user to pull up a customized keyboard whenever they’re inputting text, it will reside over whatever app they’re inputting text on. So, you know, if you’re conducting
search on a browser, if you’re chatting with friends in another chat app, you can pull up your custom keyboard.
And then there’s many different functionalities that we can enable and types of interaction. For example, it doesn’t only stop at customizing the look and feel of the keyboard, like in terms of what image is displayed over the keyboard but users can also add custom sound to the key presses, there are custom animations. We enable users to share, you know, access and share gifs really easily. And also, you know, there are more social elements within Facemoji Keyboard itself. So, there’s kind of a community that’s cultivated there. So, and there’s quite a lot going on.
Peggy: That’s quite cool in a way because if you think about it, it’s sort of like, it makes sense because we customize our experience on not even just smartphones, all phones from day one, you know, ring tones, wallpapers, all of that. That seems to be the next big thing that we can customize that we can make our own. Is that what I’m hearing here?
Josh: Yeah, I think the kind of misconception is that it’s, you could say it’s the next big thing but it’s actually…it’s been around for a while, but at least for Western advertisers, I think it’s kind of flown under the radar. There are, like I said, we have over 100 million installs for our keyboard app and that’s the western one, that’s Facemoji Keyboard, which was launched just around three years ago. For the keyboard apps in Japan, in China, the user base is much, much larger.
Peggy: So let’s talk about for North America, I mean, first of all, it’s available for that market. It may be that it’s the type of user behavior that unites us all, so we all use this in a certain way. What are you seeing just in the audience and the behavior there that would tell us that, you know, this is one place where we’re gonna interact because as I’m gonna get to you in a moment, if we’re interacting there, there’s obviously an opportunity to somehow either engage or monetize there as well.
Josh: Yes, so actually, we have built a really large community around these keyboards, and one way we do that there are two main points of I guess you could say two main entry points into Facemoji Keyboard. One is inside what we call the container app itself. And the container app is when you download Facemoji Keyboard, it lives as an app on your phone, which is like a, you know, an icon on your phone that you can click into and open. And then it’s also a keyboard on your phone. So you can pull it up when you’re basically conversing or inputting text or audio into another app. So, within the container app, we’ve been cultivating the community, and the way we do that is we encourage customization on various items. For example, and I think we’re…I’m pretty sure we’re the only keyboard community that’s focused, you know, exclusively on emoji in the world. So, it’s kind of an interesting thing, we have if you open our app, a tab at the bottom that says emoji, and we allow users to input a string of emoji to represent a certain word. And once they do that, they’ll share it with the entire Facemoji community and people who they can, you know, scroll through all the most popular strings of emoji and they can like them.
And when those emoji are liked by users, we call them emoji combos. When a user likes an emoji combo, it will go into their personal, liked, like storage box within their keyboard. And then so when they’re typing, for example, they can pull up that combo and share it with friends. So, we have like the number one, number two, number three top-ranked emoji combos, and all of our users see that. And the cool thing about this is actually there have been over 10 million emoji combos created on Facemoji. So, it’s not like a small community by any means and that’s one way we’re engaging our user base. Another thing that’s very popular is our ability to customize the keyboard skins. We call it DIY scenes. So, we have like a really full featured keyboard customization interface inside Facemoji. So you open it up, you can choose the color, you can choose a pattern, you can choose transparencies, you know, the background that you put on your keyboard. And after you’ve set all that you can share it immediately with the Facemoji community, they can download it, they can share it with their friends. So this is actually a pretty active community within the app.
Peggy: And the other side of this is obviously the other stakeholder. I mean, there are user experience benefits, there’s a community, we’ll get to some of that later because you are really cultivating that community, which is, as you pointed out yourself, you know, a first in the industry, but the other stakeholder is the performance marketer. At a high level, why do I as a performance marketer get excited about this? Why should I get excited about it? Because I’m pointing out that it’s real estate to monetize, but it’s also much more than that at Baidu. How do you see the opportunity for the marketer?
Josh: I think now would be the appropriate time to mention AI because Baidu is…if that’s okay with you.
Peggy: No, that’s fine.
Josh: Baidu is, yeah, we’re a tech company and we do a lot of R&D research into AI and create our own AI technologies. And Facemoji is a beneficiary of that. Facemoji is able to incorporate our AI tech in ways that will actually result in more accurate prediction for advertisers. So, we’re essentially, if we’re running a CPI campaign on our keyboard, it’s gonna be more highly targeted, which means it’s providing better value for the user, which means that the conversion rate is higher, which means everyone is happy, essentially.
Peggy: And so I quite unhappily have to bring us to break right now, Josh, but listeners don’t go away because we will be talking about the value proposition for you as a performance marketer, the conversion rate you might expect and other benefits and the future of apps. Loads to discuss so don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
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Peggy: And we are back at Mobile Growth. My guest today, of course, Josh Fenn. And Josh, right before the break, we were talking about the value proposition for the performance marketer. I absolutely get that machine learning AI, you know, makes that match, makes targeting and relevancy, ticks all the boxes, but explain to me how that works with the actual advertising experience. Is it something as blatant as ads on when I’m using the keyboard? Or is it something more than that?
Josh: You know, it’s a very bespoke type of experience, so I think it would be helpful if I can give a few different examples of what we can do with AI. So, I’ll just take a bit of a step back. Facemoji keyboard integrates essentially various types of AI and the applications would be what we call AR emoji, that’s one thing, and that’s like leveraging basically facial recognition technology. Another would be voice to text input and that is leveraging like a speech recognition. And we can also do various types of predictive text based on context. So, let me give an example of how one of those will work. For AR emoji, what we can do is we…this is more like on the brand marketing side, we can work with, for example, a large IP to bring a popular character right into our keyboard. And a user can do a real-time overlay, like an animated mask over their face and record, you know, do like a fun recording, and share that with their friends. So, they look like whatever, you know, fun character of the IP that we’re working with. And so that’s an application of AI on the brand marketing.
And of course, once a user downloads, you can actually download that AR emoji to your own keyboard that lives locally within your phone. And then you can use it again and again and share it over and over with friends. So, it has more of a longer shelf life and provides more visibility to that brand over time. That’s one application. Another that I mentioned is voice to text input. And this is quite an interesting one because we realized over time that people are using this, people in different geo specifically use voice to text input in different degrees. So, this means instead of actually, you know, typing out with your fingers a sentence on the keyboard, you’re hitting a button, you’re dictating your words to the keyboard, and it’s accurately transcribing what you’re saying and then you can just go off, go ahead and send it to your friends. So, what we found is…and we have a very large user base in India, we found that over 20% of our users in India primarily use voice to text input. In the States, over 10%. So, there are some interesting findings there.
And the third example, I would say, if we’re talking about predictive text and from a marketing standpoint, to give you an idea how this might work. If two users are having a conversation about going on a trip, for example, let’s say, I’m in California, you know, Northern California, I have a friend who’s in Southern California, and we’re planning a ski trip. We’re talking about this in the chat, the keyboard might be able to intuit that we’re talking about going to Lake Tahoe, and it would serve up the real-time weather in Lake Tahoe. And then we would have the choice of sharing that weather information within the chat. So that’s one example of how that could work.
Peggy: So very, very native. I mean, if I’m an app marketer, I’m a performance marketer, are there specific app categories or types of experiences that would be perhaps better suited to using this as a platform for advertising than others?
Josh: Yeah, let me dig into that a little bit more. I can share what we did for…we have actually many case studies for our Japanese keyboard app Simeji.
So, we worked with a game called Sumikko Gurashi, I hope that I’m not butchering that name, I can’t speak Japanese. But what we did is we, through our keyboard app, we can incentivize any type of action for a game, brand, or for another app. So, in this case, our partner wanted the users to or they wanted their game players to play through to a specific level on their game, I believe it was either level two or level three. And at that point, that was where they want to set the goal. So, what we did was we worked with the app developer to create a custom keyboard skin that use the brand identity of this app Sumikko Gurashi. It’s a bunch of cute little animals like, you know, bears hugging each other and things like that.
So, we created this keyboard, and when users are playing the game, we tell them that if they can reach a certain level, in this case, like level two, we will give to them the keyboard app. So, what happened was, they played the level two, we reward them with this keyboard skin. And then, because the keyboard skin was so popular, we actually got a lot of organic mentions on social media. And from those mentions, people, you know, they started talking about this and they actually really loved the skin, and this caused the search volume of the app on the App Store on Apple’s App Store to go up. And it went up to, I believe, number three in the rankings and that, of course, drove more downloads. So, this was a really popular and really successful type of bespoke marketing campaign. So that’s the type of activation we can do for performance marketers.
Peggy: That makes a lot of sense too because a lot of performance marketers are talking about using more to brand their app, to brand their game. This is a way to, you know, it’s almost like rewarded video in a way, you know, it’s keeping users interested. It’s acquiring users, it’s also retaining them, it’s keeping them engaged. There’s an opportunity on the back end to always monetize but it’s a nice native experience, it doesn’t feel like advertising. Is that the feedback you’re getting? What kind of feedback are you getting from the industry when you go out and you talk to performance marketers about what you’re offering?
Josh: One thing that people are kind of interested in is that, you know, you mentioned rewarded video. Unlike rewarded video or other types of advertising, when we gift this keyboard skin or sticker set, or, you know, AR emoji to our user, it actually lives within their app, and they’re going to use it day in and day out. You know, they, over time, they might switch to another one but it’s something that they’ll see over and over again, and they even share with friends. So, this type of marketing actually has more longevity than other types because it really reinforces the brand.
Peggy: Is it something where if I don’t wanna go native, I can just come to you and say, “Look, I really liked the idea that people are looking at that keyboard a lot. Can I get something in there? Can I mention my brand? Does that work for you as well?”
Josh: So, actually, we would never display anything obtrusive to the user directly inside the keyboard. You know, we understand that the keyboard is, it’s a very like personal experience to the user. They’re there looking at it, typing on it, you know, literally reaching out and touching it every day. And to have an ad pop up on the keyboard would just totally detract from the experience, you know, imagine the frustration of a user. So, we really care about user experience first and foremost. If you are like the example that I gave before, Sumikko Gurashi or another type of game, and you want to work with us collaboratively on a keyboard skin, that’s another matter entirely. That’s kind of like a soft advertisement that the user proactively seeks out, because they like the brand, and they want it on their keyboard skin.
Peggy: It is exactly what it needs to be. It’s relevant, valuable, personal, and also the power of an IP that we like. So, with all of this considered, you know, what is the ballpark? What is the kind of conversion rate that we might expect? Because this is a package powered by AI and appreciative of the user.
Josh: So, we recently added a new feature which is related to hashtags. So, this actually, I don’t know if it can fully represent the conversion rate or the click-through rate specifically in every type of campaign. But this really, it’s kind of like a bespoke experience. If a user enters a hashtag we can intelligently recommend related hashtags to the one that they entered initially. And we were seeing a click-through rate on that of 18%, which is really, really high. So, I think that speaks to the, you can say the intimacy of a keyboard, you know, how people are really interacting with it on a personal level, and how sticky it really is to the user. They’re using it every day with multiple types of apps.
Peggy: And what overall, Josh, when you look ahead, looking at apps, the future of apps, maybe starting with yours and what your platform is, but what do you see as the future trends that we should keep top of mind? Because this is a different area that you’re making possible to explore, but how might it evolve?
Josh: There are a few ways we wanna evolve it. First of all, we’re hoping to transform Facemoji Keyboard and all of our keyboard apps for that matter into a more comprehensive, I would say brand and performance marketing platform almost. We’re looking to, you know, achieve that through more strategic partnerships with content providers. For example, right now we can bring, you know, animated gifs right into our keyboard, that’s an awesome experience for users. We can work with large IPs to bring those beloved characters right into our keyboards and people can interact with them, sticker sets, AR, et cetera. It’s really very bespoke, it’s really based on what the brand’s needs and what makes sense for our user base and it’s very fluid in that way. So, the turning Facemoji Keyboard into a broader marketing platform, that’s one aspect.
The second aspect is I mentioned earlier, we already have a few different social components to Facemoji. Like for example, you can create and share an emoji combo, you can create and share a keyboard skin. We want to really build out this community within the app, and that could take the form of allowing users to create animated gifs and share them, create memes, you know, users trying their own stickers and sharing their sticker sets. The options are really endless.
Peggy: And for yourself personally, Josh, I mean, we didn’t talk about this the beginning, but you are a driving force in this. What’s it about for you personally? What are we gonna be expecting from you or how you got involved in Baidu? Is there something, perhaps you’re on the speaking circuit? I don’t know, what’s next for you?
Josh: Thanks for asking, Peggy. Yeah, I’m gonna be quite busy this year. We’re gonna be exhibiting at a few different events throughout the year. We’re gonna be at VidCon, we will very likely be at Licensing Expo. And in Europe, we’re going to be at DMEXCO, IBC, and also of course in China. We are a Chinese company, we’re gonna be at ChinaJoy and GMIC.
Peggy: Couple of really important shows there, ChinaJoy I’m hearing a lot about that, that’s really like one you have to go to. I’m based in Europe, so DMEXCO is in my backyard, maybe even a chance to catch up with you. But in the meantime, you know, if our listeners are listening and they’re saying, “This is really interesting, I hadn’t thought about this, I have interesting IP, or this is good for branding, what have you.” How do they get in touch with you, Josh?
Josh: Well, you can reach out to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org, and Baidu is spelled be B-A-I-D-U.
Peggy: And we’ll have all this of course in the show notes as well, and a link to your company, and any other materials you might want to offer. And in the meantime, listeners, thanks for listening to this episode of the Mobile Growth Podcast. A quick reminder to visit mobilegrowthsummit.com for a complete list of our upcoming events. And don’t forget to use the very special promo code MGSPODCAST30 for 30% off of your order. We hope to see you there, I hope to see you there. Maybe you’ll be catching up with Josh as well at other shows. In the meantime, you can check out this and every earlier episode of our series on mobilegrowthsummit.com, and on Soundcloud, and coming to many more channels, providing you many more ways to listen in every week. So, watch for that, and we’ll watch for you, and we’ll see you soon.