In July 2008, Apple opened the App Store for their then nascent iPhone, shortly followed by the launch of the precursor to Google Play - Android Market - that October. These two digital storefronts kicked off a gold rush for developers to secure their place in the marketplace, a frontier of untapped consumers and a Wild West where rules were undefined. App discovery was less of an issue, as a secured feature placement meant downloads were all but guaranteed.
Nearly ten years later, things have changed. The App Store and Google Play have matured, more digital stores have opened, consumers have a clearer idea of what they want, and it’s much more difficult for mobile apps and games to stand out from the pack. Innovative and engaging products launch weekly, but there’s still an old attitude that a featured placement will secure an app’s success.
In 2017, however, featuring alone can no longer be relied upon as the holy grail of app marketing. Developers have got a lot better at understanding how to market and monetize their apps, and as the market has matured, so has the understanding of how the underlying metrics of apps define success rather than getting lucky with an app store feature to drive a swathe of initial downloads.
Consider for a second if there were no featuring opportunities with the app store. Discovery would come down to using paid channels like Facebook and Google to drive downloads of apps, and ultimately success would be defined by the underlying unit economics - i.e. does my Lifetime Value of a User (LTV) exceed the cost of acquisition (CAC) of that user.
This formula underpins any paid marketing strategy in pretty much any industry, and it’s really important that is at the core of any successful marketing campaigns, so it’s really important that developers understand these metrics, and figure out early on if they have an ROI positive formula for user acquisition that can operate in isolation of any positive shock factors which result in acquiring many users, such as an app store feature, or some kind of viral pick up on the back of a PR/influencer campaign.
There are three keys steps to marketing a mobile app or game. By taking a metrics-driven marketing-driven approach to launch, developers are better prepared to support their products at launch, and scale up if the opportunity is there.
Understand your metrics
The first place to turn to is understand the metrics that are available to you via your analytics packages and ad attribution software. As soon as you are in soft launch you should be tracking these metrics and trying to make sense of them:
- ARPDAU - How much revenue are you making each day from the active users in your app - Average Revenue Per Daily Active Users (ARPDAU)?
- Retention - How many of your users are staying and paying in your app? This is generally expressed in % retention in days post installation - D1, D3, D7, D30 etc. which enables you to build a retention curve which helps you understand usage patterns
- Cost Per Install - CPI is the expected cost you anticipate for securing installs of an app on mainstream or niche mobile ad networks.
If you have the above metrics, then you’re able to make an estimate of the most important metric of all, but also the hardest to calculate - LTV, or Lifetime Value of a user. Only once you are able to estimate the LTV of your app for a quality user, then you can figure out whether paid acquisition makes sense for your app or not. LTV is notoriously hard to estimate for freemium apps due to the fact you have to look at a cohort of users, and examine their propensity to spend money in your app over time.
At Pollen, we build our free online LTV Calculator tool to help developers estimate lifetime values of mobile apps, and establish whether paid user acquisition makes sense (or not) as a way of helping developers scale up.
Back to the Feature
Ok so now let’s go back and consider app store featuring in a slightly different. If the developer is relying on platform featuring as a promotion strategy without supporting it with paid marketing, then what can be expected is a big spike in downloads and revenues for the period of the feature - (previously 7 days, but with recent announcements at WWDC 2017, featuring periods are trending shorter which only exacerbates the problem) - then a sharp spike down in downloads (as the feature has ended), and a commensurate tail off in revenues in line with the retention profile of the app.
So, unless the launch is supported with paid marketing, then the app will join thousands of others which have flamed out after just a week or so after such a promising start.
Featuring as Part of a Marketing Plan
Perhaps a smarter way to consider an app store feature is as a way of turbocharging the launch of an app which already exhibits good soft launch metrics which could support paid acquisition. This way a developer could generate significant additional income, riding the back of the feature wave, especially if the developer has access to the capital to reinvest quickly back into paid marketing (the payment delay from the app stores can be up to 60+ days before developers get paid out).
Taking a metrics based approach and demonstrating to the platforms that featuring support will turbocharge an already viable marketing strategy puts the developer in a much stronger position, and by showing projections of what could happen based on featuring/no featuring support, should help convince the platform that that app is worth supporting as the developer has really thought through their marketing.
Work with the storefronts
With a clear understanding of their app’s metrics and a plan for user acquisition, developers should be able to demonstrate profitability for their app. Present to partners the potential of your app, and turn the conversation to how promotional support from them - that feature placement - benefits everyone.
This is also the time where PR placements and hardware specific features of your app become valuable. If you’re lucky enough to secure quality pre-launch placements with notable publications through PR outreach, tradeshows, or organic coverage, leverage these placements to build further credibility with the platforms. If you’re supporting platform specific hardware features, such as 3D Touch or a smartwatch, highlight them to your platform partners and how it shows off their hardware in a positive way. Remember, nothing is a guarantee for featured placements, but these placements and features further can establish your marketing presence.
If you don’t secure a feature placement, your marketing plan should still anticipate profit. If you do receive a feature, use it to turbocharge your campaign. With an increase in organic downloads, developers can anticipate either a longer LTV or a higher boost in immediate income that can then be utilized for a larger UA spend.
At Pollen, we believe that by understanding metrics, building a clear marketing plan, and working with the platforms, developers can anticipate the success of their games without a feature placement, increase their chances of platform support, and ultimately control their own marketing destiny.