Finding the right paid marketing channel mix to promote your app

Linda Harnisch
Communications Lead

“With over 10+ years of app stores being around, users are already very saturated with all kinds of apps. The likelihood of a user going to a store to browse or discover new apps has declined significantly, compared to the early days of the stores. Now it’s much more about attracting users outside of the stores. This is what marketers should focus on.”

– Christian Eckhardt, Adjust’s Global App Report 2020

Once you start looking into paid app marketing for user acquisition you’ll find yourself bombarded with a plethora of paid traffic sources: 

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Google App Campaigns, Apple Search Ads… Where to start, which channels to consider and which not? 

Paid user acquisition can seem to be a daunting task – but it doesn’t have to be. This article will provide you with an understanding and overview of paid marketing channels for user acquisition (UA) as an essential step towards building and scaling a strong user base. We’ll talk about when to start and what to consider to help you figure out which channel will fit for your UA strategy. 

When should I start with paid app marketing?

Before getting started with paid app marketing, and sorting out a good media mix, you want to give it some thought and consider a few things before going out and paying for users.

Upon developing and launching your app you need to make sure that your App Store Optimization game is strong. That means, your app’s product pages in the App Store and Google Play Store are optimized for visibility and conversion rate with good metadata, screenshots and videos. The reason being that no matter on which ad potential users click, they’ll inevitably land in the app stores. Any user that you lose as friction loss in the app stores will decrease your marketing efficiency.

You want to have an attribution tracking solution in place, which is a Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP), before setting up any performance advertising accounts with any ad network, let alone campaigns. A tracking solution and attribution tracking concept is the base for success in paid mobile marketing and is therefore imperative. We can’t stress this enough in order to measure advertising results and make sure that all marketing activities are running efficiently, you receive in-depth analyses and reports on the behavior of the user in the app, detect fraud and more. 

What to consider before choosing acquisition channels:

1. What is my overarching goal and strategy?

Goals will keep your marketing activities aligned towards achieving a common objective. If you don’t know where you are going, how can you possibly choose channels to do marketing on? In the end, you want to get good users without spending a fortune. You want to ensure that you are spending your money on high-intent users, who are most likely going to be of high, long term value.

2. Know your audience before choosing networks

First and foremost, know your audience. Think in the context of a particular audience that you want to define, engage and convert. Go and do research on your demographics on each social platform. Dig into Facebook analytics or use anything at your disposal to discover age, gender and any important demographic info that you think is going to help determine which channel types to choose. This will give you a really good perception of your audience and exactly who you’re trying to market to with e.g. paid social ads.

The target audiences for each channel are also going to vary. For example, Twitter might be really great for customer support and Instagram might be ideal for sharing brand images and engaging content.

3. Consider push and pull channels  

If you are looking to market a relatively new product you want to promote your app on push/awareness channels such as Facebook. Basically, anything that pushes specific advertising outward to your customer. However, if you are competing with a lot of other players in the market, you want to focus on inbound marketing, pull/conversion channels such as Apple Search Ads. 

Media Mix: Paid Channels for User Acquisition

As the total amount of time spent on the smartphone is not increasing anymore, it is crucial to anticipate which new channels and trends come up to make sure you run ads right where your users are.

When asked “Should I advertise on all channels?” our answer usually is: If you have the resources, do it. Otherwise, start with some mainstream channels that offer a wider reach such as Facebook and focus on platforms that cater to niche audiences later such as Reddit or Pinterest.

Here is an overview of paid traffic sources to scale your app marketing machine.

Paid Social Media Marketing

Now you’re probably already using social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to engage with the community for free. But when you want to drive customer acquisition, you consider buying paid ads on social media. 

To get you started, let’s review 3 of the big and popular dogs for paid social advertising to help you identify a good fit for your mobile app. 

Facebook for paid mobile advertising

Facebook is the undeniable spot to begin. Though it is one of the most competitive advertising landscapes. With over 2.6 billion monthly active users worldwide, it is the largest social network in the world. The platform has been offering advertising options longer than any other social media platform. If you are just starting out, you probably want to test the waters with this mainstream platform offering a myriad of audience targeting options. You can choose your audience based on interests, demographics, professions and even the type of devices they are using.

There are many ad types designed to match the needs of almost any business you can think of: Image Feed Ads, Image Story Ads, Video Feed Ads, Video Story Ads, Carousel Feed Ads, Collection Ads, Dynamic Product Ads, Messenger Ads, Stories Ads.

Instagram for paid mobile advertising

Instagram uses the Facebook Ad Manager which means that it is quite easy to start advertising on Instagram, if you were already using Facebook for advertising. This makes Instagram a good second step into paid social advertising for your mobile app. If you ask yourself if Instagram is the place to market your app, this leads to the obvious counter-question: Who is on Instagram and who are you targeting? 

Compared to Facebook, Instagram attracts a (slightly) different crowd of users. They tend to be younger, in the age range of 18-29 years-old. Yet, don’t dismiss the network if the demographic doesn’t fit 100%. Instagram uses Facebook’s demographic data to serve up ads to the appropriate parties. You can even target a custom or lookalike audience so you’re showing ads only to your direct list of leads or those who have a similar makeup.

Since Instagram is a highly visual experience, text ads are not really a thing on the platform but you encounter ad types such as Instagram stories, image ads or video ads.

Snapchat for paid mobile advertising

With over 281 million daily active users worldwide (6 million in Germany), you don’t want to be missing out on Snapchat. The audience on Snapchat is primarily interest-based although certain demographic targeting options do exist as well. If your target audience is under 24 years of age (86%) and predominantly female, Snapchat could be a good place for your mobile app promotion. 

Similar to Facebook and Instagram, App install campaigns are rather straightforward from a user perspective: One swipe opens an embedded App Store or Google Play Store page. Over 60% of users are using Snapchat with audio, giving marketers a big opportunity to connect with them.

Should you use Snapchat from the get go or later? Snapchat narrows the age range and focus solely on video content. From our experience, advertising with video content on Snapchat should commence after your advertising campaigns have been running on the following other platforms for a couple months:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram 
  • Google App Campaigns
  • Apple Search Ads

Paid Search in the mobile marketing channel mix

Generally speaking, paid search describes all occasions where you can display ads after a user has been searching for some specific keyword(s). For search queries on Google’s networks, the Google Play Store (Android) and Apple’s App Store (iOS) you will sooner or later come across Google App Campaigns and Apple Search Ads (ASA). Bidding or paying more for specific keywords is the main way to win over your competitors and be displayed above the organic search results – although relevancy and other factors are taken into account as well

Google App Campaigns

Google App Campaigns allow you to promote your app across Google’s enormous network of ad inventory. For instance when users are browsing across Google Play, Google Browser Search, Youtube; or when they are engaging with similar apps than yours or actively looking to find new apps or games.

It takes one single campaign to promote your app across all of Google’s ad networks and get the most reach for your app install goals. All ad components are combined automatically – that is copy, images and videos. Ads are then created automatically by Google. Optionally, you can upload additional assets manually in Google Ads. This is highly recommended since it will help you accessing a bigger variety of ad inventory and typically yield higher CTRs than the auto-generated ads.

Apple Search Ads

Apple Search Ads (ASA) is an efficient and easy way to help people discover your app on the App Store for iPhone and iPad. Why should you care? Well, about 70% percent of people visiting the App Store discover Apps via search. It can’t hurt to get into the top spot of the search results, can it? Also, it can push the results that you are getting from your App Store Optimization. Apple Search Ads campaigns are generated from the app’s metadata in the App Store Connect account. That is:

  • App Title
  • Subtitle
  • Screenshots

So it’s important that you optimize these assets and make sure they represent your app in the best way possible.

When you search for a keyword within the App Store, you will see that the first result is usually marked as an ad in blue. So, this means that an app publisher is paying to be in the top spot for this specific keyword. 

Ad Networks in the paid mobile marketing mix

After you have tried and scaled the mainstream channels above, this is the time to think about adding additional ad networks and other advertising partners.  

There are a lot of different players in the market, points Customlytic’s CEO 6 Co-Founder Christian Eckhardt out. “Some of them are supposedly marketing “exclusive” traffic that only they have access to (spoiler alert, this doesn’t exist) while others are a bit more trustworthy. They will tell you from the beginning that such exclusive traffic does not exist and that they only bid for ad inventory at the popular ad exchanges”. 

The latter is what you would call RTB (real time bidding, learn more about it here) advertising partners and if you are considering this, you should take a look at Liftoff and Jampp as well as Remerge if you are looking for retargeting campaigns. If you have the capacity to manage the bidding in-house, Kayzen (by former AppLift founder Tim Koschella) is worth taking a look at. Essentially these ad platforms are all about showing display ads inside of other apps or on mobile websites.This is the most tricky place to promote your app because any 3rd party traffic source might contain fraud and can be hard to control/manage. If you want to know more about the psychology behind ad fraud and the accountability of ad networks in the fraud game, you can read about it here.

Fundamental rules: Leveraging channels and campaigns 

Last but not least, we want to conclude with a few ground rules and tips to make the most of your paid app marketing activities on channels mentioned above.

1 Mobile ad inventory – make it diverse

To maximize your reach, we advise you to use all ad formats or you won’t be able to make use of all placements and this will limit your volume. When it comes to creatives, each network has its own specifications. Sometimes you can take the same creative for multiple channels.

2 Audience – not too broad, not too narrow

If your audience is too broad, this can lead to bad conversion rates. Yet, if your audience is too narrow, this might keep you from discovering unknown interest groups. Narrowing your audience to the optimal size, increasing cost efficiency, and understanding the signals that your audience is too broad or narrow is key. 

3 Learning phase – give it time

When starting to launch and then optimize campaigns later on, keep in mind that campaigns need time to breath and develop. You want to aggregate enough data to optimize campaigns in the long run.  

4 Ad networks – be cautious

Unfortunately, ad-networks represent the most intransparent traffic as they will typically not disclose the actual publisher apps to you (as this is their only asset really).  You should treat any campaigns that you run with such networks with extra caution and question the numbers you get out of them (especially if they offer you CPA-based billing). 

What’s the biggest challenge you’re struggling with when leveraging your marketing channels and acquiring new users for your app? We are happy to support you with any performance marketing matter! Start by checking out the basics of user acquisition, and take a look at our Customlytics eBook about User Acquisition and Retargeting. Contact us at [email protected] and let’s find out together how to improve your overall UA-strategy!

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