Are mobile marketing teams shrinking?

Late last month, Uber announced that it was shedding 400 marketing jobs — from a global team of 1200 — as a cost-cutting measure ahead of its first quarterly earnings report as a public company.

On the surface, it may seem that a 1200-person marketing team is unsustainably large for any organization and that the layoffs were simply a corrective measure for a newly-public company that needs to reign in spending as losses mount. But Uber spent $1BN on sales and marketing in the first quarter of 2019, or $8MM per marketing team member, and given the local nature of Uber’s product (as well as the fact that it operates a two-sided marketplace that requires acquisition efforts for both drivers and riders), a marketing team of that size isn’t altogether illogical.

Anecdotally, and supported by the memo that was circulated internally at Uber about the layoffs, I have heard that Uber’s marketing team was disorganized, featured many redundancies, and was often at odds with internal “growth” teams that focused mostly on retention-oriented experimentation. But putting organizational inefficiencies aside — because they exist at every big company — a question that does arise with this news is, are all marketing teams at mobile-first companies trending smaller?

The growing influence of algorithmic campaign management strategies on Facebook and Google and the general shift towards programmatic media buying on mobile would suggest that mobile marketing teams don’t need to be as large as they once were. Facebook and Google generally represent a majority of overall spend for large, scaled mobile-first companies, and programmatic media buying doesn’t require the same kind of army of button-pushing campaign managers that self-serve platforms do. It does seem entirely possible that the mobile marketing team of the future, even at companies spending lavishly (in the tens of millions of dollars per month) on mobile media, consists of just a handful of people.

What’s curious about Uber’s situation is that the company very publicly sued its agency of record for fraud, meaning that even a massive team of 1200 people wasn’t sufficient for managing all of Uber’s mobile spend. In this case, there’s nothing to suggest that layoffs occurred exclusively because of a shift to algorithmic or programmatic buying, but it is difficult to imagine that the changing mobile advertising landscape didn’t at least influence them. It seems almost inevitable that this trend will take root across mobile, as fewer and fewer people are needed in a company to scale marketing spend on the most important channels, although not everyone shares that sentiment — I posed this question on Twitter and the results were mixed:

But the reality is that, for Facebook, event-based bid strategies like VO and AEO have replaced the onerous process of audience targeting, and its campaign budget optimization (CBO) tool will become mandatory for campaigns just next month, meaning much of the work done analyzing budget distribution will be automated for teams. Google’s UAC campaigns function in much the same way, and it is conceivable that a marketing team spending millions of dollars per month might only have one or two people dedicated to each of these channels.

That said, while I think the need for campaign managers / media buyers will likely abate going forward, the mechanics of these algorithmic campaigns creates demand for analysts and artists in a way that didn’t formerly exist, as I’ve written about before. But it seems unlikely that any growth in these areas will match the reduction in need for media buyers: generally speaking, mobile user acquisition teams seem poised to shrink.

Photo by Danting Zhu on Unsplash