Let’s be honest: paid mobile app user acquisition is a mess. And if you don’t agree with this, either you’re lying to yourself, or you’ve been frozen for the past three years and just woke up.
Table of Contents
- Mobile App User Acquisition: What Just Happened?
- A Holistic Approach: The Growth Rocket Model
- A Systematic Approach: The Paid UA Process
- Structured Activities for Each Paid UA Phase
- How to Use the Paid User Acquisition Procework
Now, making a step back. Do you remember 2019? The duopoly, Facebook and Google, was dominating the advertising industry, both on mobile and desktop, with Apple Search Ads and TikTok that were considered emerging channels and Twitter and Snapchat as nice to have.
Google was tracking even the cookies you used to eat for breakfast, and the IDFAs were something we could use on a large scale—without any sort of limitation—to track users, retarget them, and profile them. It was the dream.
As a performance marketing manager, if you had a good budget to spend and knew a few optimization tricks on Facebook, it would have been relatively easy to scale user acquisition.
Mobile App User Acquisition: What Just Happened?
Then we had two main events that disrupted the advertising world: the tracking limitation introduced by Apple with iOS14 and the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The two things indicated a series of consequences that are having a strong impact on the way we do marketing.
On one side, the tracking limitations have decreased the access to data, or better, the way we get data—we don’t have the immediate response we used to have when uploading a banner on Facebook (I remember optimizing creatives almost in real-time based on first clicks and installs).
Therefore, it became much more difficult to make quick decisions as we used to.
On the other hand, the Pandemic has urged many companies to move their business online. Just think about it. I’m sure your favorite family-run bakery now also sells products online. For this reason, we’re seeing increasingly fierce competition in online advertising, and in the specific—mobile.
We have a scenario where small advertisers are trying to fight the rising CPMs and big brands that are just burning millions of dollars of budgets because they just don’t care about the CPMs.
Mobile App User Acquisition: Is It the End?
All summed up, paid user acquisition risks to become more and more efficient, and the question that many ask themselves is: is paid user acquisition dead?
The answer to this questions can be two:
Yes, it is dead: if you still live in 2019, if you pretend that nothing happened and want to run performance marketing campaigns as if nothing happened, trying to read the data as it used before, using the same advertising channels, ignoring the experiments.
No, it is not dead: if you have decided to adapt to the changes and take them as an opportunity.
But what should we do then?
What Does Adapting Mean?
First of all, adapting means not behaving like this cute dog, pretending that everything is fine and that the advertising world isn’t burning out.
But most of all, adapting means changing the approach we have to paid mobile app user acquisition, firstly looking at it as part of a holistic marketing plan, secondly, following precise processes and frameworks that can help overcome the limitations related to data and targeting.
A Holistic Approach: The Growth Rocket Model
Already at the beginning of 2020, at REPLUG, we understood the urgency of rethinking the approach to paid user acquisition and app marketing in general. We decided to develop the Growth Rocket Model—based on the belief that app marketing success results from a holistic approach to growth activities.
The GRM shows as Paid UA is just a part of App Growth—and, exactly like on a real rocket—it needs to work in cooperation with all the other components to guarantee a successful trip to space.
You can read how to apply the Growth Rocket Model in detail in this article.
A Systematic Approach: The Paid UA Process
Considering mobile app paid user acquisition as a part of a holistic plan alone is not enough. We should also start using a systematic approach that will allow us to identify challenges and opportunities clearly. At REPLUG, we’ve focused the majority of our projects—across different areas—on precise processes.
We have already discussed the 5-step CRM Process that helped us scale CRM activities for several clients, and in this article, we will discuss in detail our 5-step Paid UA Process. Moreover, we like to call it Procework—because we see it as a combination of a Process and a Framework.
Our Paid UA Procework is made of five consecutive phases. For each of the five phases, we need to ask ourselves a set of questions, and a set of activities, divided by area, that we need to go through.
Below you can see the five areas.
It’s important to note that the last three phases represent an ongoing process that we call the “Optimization Loop.”
In the following paragraph, we will go into detail about each phase, identifying the specific questions connected to each of them.
5 Questions for Each Mobile App User Acquisition Phase
For each phase, we’ve developed a set of simple questions that are important to define what will be the focus of the phase and the activities that we need to go through.
Below you can see what the questions about each of the paid user acquisition processes are.
1. Audit and Setup
For each Paid UA project, this is the “golden phase.” When given a budget to spend, whatever the amount, it would not be very considerate to start immediately spending it without checking what past activities have been done and, most importantly, if we’re ready to measure success.
Questions to ask: what are the past activities and types of messaging used? Is tech infrastructure ready to measure success?
After the audit phase has been completed and we’ve got a clear understanding of the status quo, we need to go into the phase where we try to figure out the best way to spend our budget and achieve our goals.
Questions to ask: what’s our target audience, and what are the best channels to reach it? What’s the message to communicate and the creative strategy?
Once the strategy is defined and approved, it’s time to implement the actual campaigns. That is a crucial phase because the accuracy of the campaign’s structure, for example, will define the ability to measure success and scale the paid user acquisition activities.
Questions to ask: what’s the best campaign setup, and how do we measure success? How do we get the creatives needed?
Campaigns are finally live, we get the first data, and we start to analyze. This phase is crucial to understand what worked with the initial strategy and to start planning for the future.
Questions to ask: what are the main results and drivers of those results? How are the creatives performing?
5. Optimize and Test
After getting the first results, it’s time to start optimizing to reach (even) better results. This is usually the most fun part because we have a lot to test in the mobile app paid user acquisition.
Questions to ask: what can we test to improve results? What cross-functional activities can we optimize?
Of course, our work is not done by just asking ourselves a few questions. As we mentioned, some activities need to be performed, and they can be categorized under different areas that are usually constant across all the phases.
Structured Activities for Each Paid UA Phase
By asking ourselves the right questions, we can define the focus for each area and understand what type of activities we will need to perform. In this paragraph, we will go through such activities that, if followed, will increase the chances of reaching the goals.
As you see in the image below, our paid mobile app user acquisition includes a set of activities divided by area. Those areas are recurring for each phase.
The main areas of activities are:
- Tech: all activities related to the tech stack needed to run paid UA campaigns (MMP, analytics, etc.)
- Campaigns: all activities related to the strategy, management, and optimization of the campaigns across different ad platforms
- Creatives: all activities connected to the creative aspect of paid UA
- Cross-area: all the activities not directly connected to paid user acquisition but that can have a positive impact on results (e.g., App Store Optimization, Mobile CRM, etc.)
Now we will go through the different activities for each paid user acquisition phase.
Mobile App User Acquisition: Audit and Setup Phase Activities
The main activities of this phase, as the questions suggest, are related to health checks of current and past activities, and they’re divided into three areas:
1. Tech Health Check
This box includes all the crucial activities to understand if we’re ready to run paid user acquisition from a tech point of view. During the tech health check, we usually go through the MMP setup to see if we can rely on the current tracking and attribution settings. We check the adv. channels integrations, the SKAN setup, and more.
The rule should be: if you can’t measure, don’t start spending.
2. Campaigns Health Check
Those are all the activities that are aimed at checking what kind of past activities have been running, which channels have been used, what types of targeting, optimizations, and others.
3. Creatives Health Check
Those activities connected to the previous set allow us to understand if the types of messaging and creative types used were adequate and if there were any missing opportunities.
4. Cross-Area Check
This is not included in the image, but as mobile app paid user acquisition managers and marketers in general, we should always consider the holistic picture with the whole app marketing activities spectrum.
So, in this phase, we should look at the App Store and Google Play Store pages, the onboarding process, and identify any evident blockers to achieving the paid UA goals.
Phase One Activities Output
At the end of this phase, you should have a clear understanding of the status quo. After going through all the activities, you should be able to know if you are ready to start with mobile app user acquisition right away or if there is a need to fix things, and you should have identified the levers for success that will be the basis for your strategy.
Strategy Phase Activities
As the questions suggest, the main activities of this phase have the objective of creating a plan for acquiring users through paid channels, starting from the analysis we conducted in the first phase. The activities are divided into two main groups.
Campaigns strategy: here are included all the activities connected to the paid campaigns, from the channels we want to use at the beginning, to the target audience (demographic, interests, look-a-like), budget allocation, retargeting needs, and more.
Creative strategy: those activities related to the planning of the creative aspect of paid UA. According to the channels we want to use, we need to plan what message to communicate, and with which formats, how many assets we will need, what App USPs.
Phase Two Activities Output
The final result of this phase should be a precise plan to start advertising and reach your target audience in the (supposedly) most effective way.
Please note that if we identified tech issues during phase one, the first part of the strategy should be focused on solving those problems.
Implementation Phase Activities
The third phase’s activities focus on implementing the plan we created in the previous mobile app user acquisition phase. Here, once again, the activities are divided into two groups.
- Campaigns management: this group includes all the activities related to the campaign creation. Here we must pay special attention to the budget allocation and the naming structure. At REPLUG, we value a better setup for future analysis, testing structure, and preparation of the reporting structure based on the KPIs we want to analyze.
- Creative production: those activities related to the production of the graphic assets needed to run Paid User Acquisition campaigns. We start with the briefs for our graphic designers so that they can produce the materials. But also with the briefs for our creators and influencers—in case we need user-generated content—and in this specific case, the research phase is included.
Phase Three Activities Output
Once all the activities of this phase are completed, we should be in the position to push the start button and start spending money.
Analysis Phase Activities
As we can understand from the main question, the activities of the fourth phase are related to the analysis of the first results and the identification of why we got such results. Those activities are divided into the same two areas of activities as phases two and three.
- Campaign analysis: as mentioned, this is a crucial part of mobile app user acquisition, and it includes all the activities related to analyzing our paid campaigns. Here we try to explore all the aspects that can be important to have full visibility and to understand how to get better results.
We start, obviously, from the KPIs related to our main goals, and we expand our analysis to anything else influencing those results.
Besides the main cost per install and actions, we check the relative conversion rates. We perform cohort analysis, and we check how the organic traffic is behaving and if there is any uplift. In addition, we try to identify the differences in performances for each demographic, age group, and more.
- Creative analysis: also, the creative part requires a deep analysis of the results. In particular, we need to analyze the different messages communicated, formats, placemats, call to action, etc.
Also, those analyses can be done by OS, channels, placements, gender, geo, age group, and all other relevant factors.
Phase Four Activities Output
At the end of this phase, we should clearly understand how the initial strategy has performed, with a transparent cost structure and conversion rates overview—by channel and by any other targeting factor (audience, age, gender, country, etc.)
Mobile App User Acquisition: Optimization and Testing Phase Activities
We said that already, but we want to repeat it—this is usually the most fun part that gives us more satisfaction—because we can “play” and experiment across different areas beyond paid user acquisition. This area’s activities aim to improve results and are divided into three main groups.
- Campaign optimization: those activities are all focused on finding and testing new audiences (interest, look-a-like, retargeting, etc.), new channels, new demographics, and optimization methods as well. Nowadays, there are (almost) endless things to test regarding paid user acquisition channels.
- Creative optimization: this group of activities includes all the optimizations and testing of new creatives formats, new messages, new creators, etc. According to the channels used, we should have different things to test.
- Cross-area optimization: those activities could make a difference compared to your competitors because we are checking all the areas not connected directly to paid UA, which could influence the results.
For example, in this group, we have the App Store Optimization activity, the Custom Product Pages test, and the onboarding optimization.
Phase Five Activities Output
At the end of phase five, we should have a list of optimizations—based on the data collected during phase four—that we need to implement to increase paid user acquisition spend efficiency. That’s when we go back to phase three to implement the optimizations, and the Optimization Loop can start.
Up to this point, we should clearly understand what the entire process is about.
In the next paragraph, we will give you a better understanding of how the process work and how we should use it.
How to Use the Paid User Acquisition Procework
Our systematic approach to paid user acquisition can be applied across different mobile apps and different verticals—it doesn’t matter whether you are promoting a delivery app or a subscription-based fitness app, for example.
If you follow the steps for each phase, going through all the activities, chances are high that you will be able to achieve your goals.
Each phase depends on the previous one, with the audit phase always being the starting point.
Therefore, you must know if the tracking is in place before spending. You also need to know if you can learn something from previous activities or if there are major blockers in other areas of app marketing that could prevent you from achieving the goals.
If you note that the MMP is not correctly set up, you shouldn’t start spending. Moreover, if you see that the registration page is not optimized, for example, and your goal is to achieve registered users, you should try first to fix the UX problems.
Paid User Acquisition Procework: Next Steps
With the learning from phase one, creating a paid UA strategy to achieve your main goal will be easier. By understanding the main target audience, you’ll be able to decide which channels to use to reach it—at least in the beginning—and with which messages or creative formats.
The creative strategy is strictly connected to the channels we decide to focus on. For example, if you start using TikTok Ads, you will need different types of creatives rather than if you decided to start from Facebook Ads.
And once the strategy is approved, it is time to put it into place—usually, that’s why phases two and three go together, even if they’re two different phases.
Phase three—implementation—is crucial because if we ignore naming conventional budgeting and test structure, we won’t be able to scale and analyze. So it’s better to make a specific implementation plan and not stop at the strategic planning.
When you finally push the start button, it will be fun to analyze and optimize. Here again, we often combine phase four and phase five. It is due to the strict correlation between analysis and optimizations—we should base our tests on the results of past activities and iterate our best concepts both from a campaigning point of view and a creative standpoint.
Once we have planned our optimizations and tests—similarly to what we did in phase two—we go back to phase three and implement them, giving rise to the recurring process we call the “optimization loop.”
Viewing mobile app user acquisition as a standalone strategy is insufficient. We must also begin utilizing a systematic strategy that will enable us to identify difficulties and opportunities properly.
As we have seen throughout this article, it is all a matter of calculated planning, monitoring, testing, optimizing, and then doing the whole loop again. Which we call the magical “optimization loop”
Moreover, as we have mentioned, each phase is dependent on the one before it, with the audit stage always serving as the initial point.
Nevertheless, it may seem complicated at first, but it’s truly not. It’s just a matter of following the process and paying attention to details.
We talked about the paid user acquisition process in our latest presentation at the App Promotion Summit, where we gave some practical examples. Do you want to see the presentation, then click here!