How Can Your Startup Battle Google and Facebook? Take a Page out of’s PR Playbook and Focus on Community

As Facebook and Google, advertising’s reigning duopoly, maintain control of 58 percent of the mobile advertising industry, how are smaller players supposed to stand out against this immense shadow?  


The level of competition amongst these smaller companies has intensified over the past ten years as the industry has become inundated with a number of companies all claiming to deliver on a similar promise. Meanwhile, the rise of mobile marketing will lead to an estimated 500,000 jobs created within mobile user acquisition over the next decade, driving a need for professional development across the industry.


Winning on technology is not enough, which is why a new approach to competition has emerged, and why community-building is one of the best PR strategies you can adopt.


Against this backdrop, one company our firm VSC has worked with has become a stand-out success: Liftoff, a performance-driven app marketing and retargeting platform, has appeared on the Inc. 5000 list of the nation’s fastest-growing private companies for the second year in a row, with a three-year revenue growth of more than 3000%.

And, they’re doing it with a bottom-up approach.


Over the last three years, Liftoff has invested in its community through its Mobile Heroes initiative. It’s the brainchild of Liftoff’s VP of Marketing, Dennis Mink, who sought to give non-gaming app marketers a platform and a voice to talk about their experiences, share their knowledge, and build community — because non-gaming marketers had (and still have) a much harder time finding peers that face their specific challenges than those in the  mobile gaming industry. At the same time, there was a need within Liftoff to elevate the company’s brand; it was too challenging and expensive to compete against tech titans and other heavily venture-backed startups on spending alone, so Dennis played the long game, placing his emphasis on community-building.


The result was a program that highlights the everyday “Heroes” who successfully market mobile apps. What started as a program to support and provide valuable resources for marketers of non-gaming apps grew into a global community of over 50 thought leaders (and counting) across all app categories, sharing knowledge to advance the mobile marketing world.


The Mobile Heroes speak candidly about their day-to-day challenges, where they are finding success, as well as on things they haven’t quite figured out yet, providing a surprisingly frank and much-needed resource for the industry. Crucially, it’s filling the resource void for mobile marketers looking to grow their careers, while introducing emerging leaders to its solutions and driving business growth. At the same time, Liftoff taps these Mobile Heroes for case studies and testimonials to support marketing.


The program has become a dynamic community and professional resource where mobile marketing pros share their experiences and practical tips through podcasts, videos, and personal interactions to benefit all involved. Video interviews, podcasts, blog posts, webinars, comic books and a variety of live events, such as panels and breakout sessions, showcase the Mobile Heroes’ knowledge and make it available to the wider community.

Each Hero is chosen for a unique area of expertise they can bring to the community, and they have been very open in talking about topics ranging from how to directly impact revenue to the importance of brand safety — the program is not about sharing data or secrets, but about gathering meaningful advice. Mobile marketing professionals are also encouraged to nominate a colleague or themselves as a new Mobile Hero, such as Thomas Hopkins of Lyft, Esther Hwang of Poshmark, and Drew Frost of Sam’s Club.


The program taps the company’s owned media channels, including social, email newsletters, and blogs, as well as a dedicated microsite to feature the Heroes, their perspectives, and in-depth case studies on their achievements. At leading mobile marketing industry conferences like MAU Vegas and others, they bring their community offline, with dinners and other events a hot ticket.

Liftoff’s ability to create strong cultures that draw people in is evident in the booming internal growth of its company — in the three years since it began the Mobile Heroes program, Liftoff’s internal headcount quadrupled, and its culture honored in countless company culture awards.


Liftoff is not the first tech platform to focus on community: AdMob, in the first era of mobile ads, began hosting app developer meetups back in 2008 as a way to network and learn from others in the industry. Twilio, known for hosting literally hundreds of meetups around the world each year, took these ideas to scale: while now publicly traded, the company is in the fifth year of its SIGNAL conference, encouraging its customers, developers, and industry influencers to join together to connect and collaborate. Meanwhile, HoneyBook’s Rising Tide Society promotes a network on which creative entrepreneurs can share opportunities with one another… the list goes on.


The value of Liftoff’s community ultimately establishes the company as a critical component of the entire mobile user acquisition professional ecosystem, rather than just as a company selling a product. It’s clear that long-term commitment to community-building pays off in an era when every one of a company’s competitors begins effectively copying the other’s message, working to outspend each other at trade shows, and ultimately creating overwhelming noise and market confusion.


The Mobile Heroes program is a great PR idea that other companies should adopt when it feels nearly impossible to battle big, entrenched players, or cut through the noise when everyone in the space is saying and selling similar things (at least from the customer’s standpoint).


When this happens, relationships become the primary differentiator: communities shape products, and community-driven technologies turn out to be superior because they were designed by the customer — not just sold to them.


In some ways, what we’ve seen in politics and technology are similar. In a world where it feels like the establishment can outspend on resources, advertising and technology, the power of grassroots, community-driven movements can win.


What are some other examples of enterprise companies that have won on community? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.