Interview with Jonathan Burdon, CEO & Founder of SDA Media, an award winning app marketing agency banner

We sat down with Jonathan Burdon, founder, and CEO of SDA Media, a social media awareness & app marketing company that bagged the crown in the "Top 50 app marketing agencies" list. He shared his insights on predicting marketing trends and the success of a purely performance-based business model. Jonathan also revealed how his experience shaped his decisions & helped SDA Media achieve mainstream success.

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1) Tell us a bit about SDA Media and its journey. How did the idea of starting a digital agency come to you?

In 2013 we launched an app called “SocialCoaster.” The app was community-based like a more user-friendly version of Reddit. After making several mistakes I finally released the app, and I learned a very valuable lesson. Apps are not like the movie “Field of Dreams” where if you build it they [users] will come. There is so much more that goes into growing a mobile app. 

After investing every last dime I had into app development, I set out to raise capital that would be used to grow the app. In the process, I met a successful businessman named Tim who would later become one of the most influential mentors in my life. Tim told me, “I am not going to invest in a company that doesn’t make money. Give me a business model that makes money immediately and I will take a look.” 

Behind the scenes, I had been introduced to the very early days of Instagram influencer marketing by a friend. This friend offered to share a few pieces of content about my SocialCoaster app on his Instagram page to help our community grow. To my disbelief, the app grew! As a result of this discovery, I drafted a business plan of acquiring large “meme” accounts on Instagram through our investment. These accounts were to be used primarily in promoting our app but would also sell advertisements for others to promote their products or apps. 

With a big dream in mind, we quickly realized that we were onto something by owning and building these large Instagram accounts and business really started taking off. From there, we decided to close our app and focus solely on the media side of the business. We began landing large clients and in the process realized that almost everyone was experiencing the same pain points: influencers were hard to work with, payouts were too high, campaigns were hard to scale, and most pages required upfront payment (which created its own set of issues). 

The biggest pain point was the required upfront payment, so we worked hard to figure out an alternative solution. This is where our first business evolution took place - we invented a proprietary technology called GUST that allowed businesses to buy ads on a performance basis, at scale with better payout terms. 

Fast forward to today and you will see that the journey since creating GUST has been action-packed and full of learning. We became students of content and distribution. We wanted to be one of the first agencies to structure clients on performance-based pay scales, causing all the risk to be on SDA Media to perform. This pay scale allowed us to identify high-quality partners and maintain long-term relationships, building overall happiness among our clients as they were able to scale and hit their key performance goals. 

2) What business model does SDA Media follow and why is it better than its contemporaries?

SDA Media actually flipped business models upside down with its processes. In fact, we flipped the business model upside down to the point that when we have a new client opportunity we find ourselves evaluating the client versus the client evaluating us. We created a business model that completely eliminates the risk for our mobile app clients, ultimately establishing long term relationships. I will tell you about the defining features of how we work: 

  • We will run a free trial campaign to show potential clients what we can do. Running the free trial also allows us to evaluate them as potential partners.
  • We have agency partnerships with AppsFlyer, Adjust, Brand, and other MMP’s which allows us to easily integrate into our clients’ systems and run campaigns strictly on a performance basis (CPI).
  • We are best known for sending quality users to our mobile app partners, and we almost always outperform our clients’ average retention rates.
  • We do not require long-term commitments from our partners. We believe if we are performing at a metric that works for the client they will never want to get rid of us, and we have found that for the most part, this has proven to be true.
  • To sum it up we prove to our clients what we can do: work solely on a performance basis, drive high-quality users, and not require long-term contracts. Through our services, our partners truly have nothing to lose. 

3) Which social media channels/platforms do you generally recommend for business and why?

Over the years I have learned that there is truly some opportunity for business everywhere. What works for one client may not work for another. We have chosen to focus and be specialists on a few specific platforms: Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. We excel on these three platforms and biasedly feel like they are the top social media channels for business; however, I encourage brands to experiment and try other channels to learn what works best for them.

4) What common flaws do businesses typically fall for in content marketing? What solutions would you suggest?

At SDA Media, we internally call ourselves students of content. Content marketing is an art that must be studied. It is all about finding the appropriate balance between highly entertaining content and an “ad” that is laser-focused on the brand. It’s okay for content to actively advertise to an audience, but that message is often missed if it can’t first capture the audience’s attention.

This is much easier said than done, but there are countless secrets that we discovered while digging for great content marketing. Small nuances that can double or triple conversion rates. It is best to have a process for scaling content, knowing your audiences, hypothesize on messaging to those audiences and test continually. 

5) Do you believe the power of organic marketing is undervalued? If so, please explain why.

The power of organic marketing is truly undervalued. We have data to prove that, if executed correctly, a message coming from a third-party (user-generated content) is two to three times more effective than a message coming directly from a brand.

The issue that brands face with organic marketing is attribution. Brands might think their efforts are working, but in reality, it is difficult for a marketer to explain to his or her boss with tangible numbers how an organic post yields results. We have spent the last few years tackling our attribution program and have created a system that is measurable but still yields the positive effects of organic marketing. 

6) How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted social media marketing?

This is a loaded question that I believe has multiple answers. As a general rule, when things get tough or there are unknowns - brands typically cut marketing and social media marketing budgets first. In February and March, this was shown to be true, especially in industries that relied on in-person business.

However, for SDA Media, we actually experienced quite the opposite. Our focus is in the “App Download” world and it is well documented that the mobile app industry has thrived in 2020. With so many people quarantined at home, app downloads have skyrocketed worldwide which has been good for the social media marketing industry. 

7) As the founder and CEO of a digital agency, what advice would you like to impart to future entrepreneurs with similar dreams?

  • It is really important to have a clear vision, set an objective, and never lose sight of that goal. Be extremely flexible on the path to get there. 
  • Things are going to get hard, and you must fight hard and push through obstacles that arise. 
  • Stay linear. It’s so easy to chase rabbits and throw darts, but once you have a good product-market fit, stay the course and sharpen your core business because, through that, you chase new opportunities. 
  • Know what drives your team, they don’t wake up in the morning with the dream to make YOU money. A great leader can find a way to help your team achieve their goals while at the same time buying into the company goals. If you can find a way to get your entire team focused, locked into a goal, and sharpening one another, things will get interesting fast. 
  • A mentor once told me, no matter what a client tells you about their company, they ALWAYS are in business to make money. This may seem simple, but the best advice I can give a future entrepreneur is to create a product that makes third-parties more money (either through efficiencies or growth) and ensure that your impact is clearly attributable. It’s simple, but if you can do that AND you treat people right, you will have a successful business. 


The story of SDA Media is one of "practice and preach". Jonathan also stumbled in the initial phase, while adjusting his product with the market demand and feasibility. He got it right by responding to feedback with improved action.

A performance-based payment model is very hard to find, especially in the app marketing domain where companies rely on binding contracts and initiative based payments. SDA Media dedicatedly works on a performance-based model. Naturally, this is more appealing to clients, because after all, that is the true objective of companies; performance.

This is indeed a defining trait of SDA Media but the true gem is the relationships that they forge with their clients.

When you don't believe in a binding contract how do you retain clients? With performance and commitment to scale. This is exactly what Jonathan does and aims to continue doing for all of his clients.


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