Laying the foundation for profitable mobile user acquisition


If you want to acquire mobile users at a profit, and most marketers do, then follow this one overarching piece of advice:


Don’t rush into spending on mobile user acquisition (UA)


Instead, lay a solid foundation for profitable mobile UA by collaborating with internal and external experts on KPI tracking, leveraging all of the ways that vendors can help you to be successful, and choosing a single source of truth. Doing these things will save you time in the long run and prevent more work down the line. If you’re a little fuzzy on how to do these things, this article will clarify all of the big and little details.


Collaborate with internal and external experts on KPI tracking


One big challenge in mobile UA is that there’s no cookie-cutter solution for tracking key performance indicators (KPIs). This means that you have to figure out the optimal way to implement KPI tracking that works for your app and for your goals.


You’ll want to leverage all the expertise that you can when setting up KPI tracking. This includes leveraging internal resources, like the product manager for your app and your app’s engineering team, as well as external resources, like your attribution vendor’s technical support team. In some cases, you may also want to leverage technical experts within the media networks that you work with.


Implementing tracking can get very technical. If you can get the right people with the right technical expertise to work on it from the outset, you’ll make less mistakes and prevent a lot of headaches. If tracking breaks, don’t be afraid to reassemble your technical experts in order to find a solution as quickly as possible. Tracking can break due to seemingly inconsequential changes, such as a line of code changing an uppercase “L” to a lowercase “l”. Don’t let such a small error hamper or halt your ability to profitably acquire mobile users.


As you work with internal and external experts on implementing KPI tracking, keep in mind the following three best practices.


1.  Anticipate how your KPIs will change over time and be prepared to track your current and future KPIs.


Apps have an evolution, and there will be product changes. So you don’t want to tag everything now and then have to retag it all again later. Before implementing a single tracker, map out the KPIs that need to be tracked on paper and share the plan with your technical experts.


As you go about this, think about the user’s journey and all the things along this journey that pop out to you as critical events. Do users register? Do they invite friends to install the app? Do they add in credit card information? Do they make a purchase or subscribe? Do they make multiple purchases within a specific time frame? Do they reach a certain level of spending? Make sure that some of the events you’re tracking are revenue events and lifetime value (LTV) events as those will allow you to measure profitability.


2.  Understand the limitations of your KPI tracking capabilities and choose to track the most meaningful KPIs within those limits.


Your attribution provider may have a limit on the number of events you can track. In addition, they may charge by the number of events that you’re tracking. You’ll need to know the maximum number of events that you’re allowed to track as well as the maximum number of events that you’re willing to pay for.


Once you know this upward limit, consider using less than the max. You want to leave room to add in new KPIs when they are warranted. For example, an upgrade to your app may warrant the addition of new KPIs. The better you know the roadmap for your app, the easier it will be to leave room in your tracking system to support new KPIs. So, spend time with your product team to fully understand the roadmap for your app.


3.  Make sure what you track for user acquisition will work for other forms of marketing, like engagement, retargeting, and re-engagement.


Mobile UA may be your focus now, but in the future, your focus may shift to engagement, retargeting, or re-engagement. Ideally, you want your tracking to work with these tactics as well. Sometimes you need an additional product in your tech stack for this, such as a marketing automation CRM like Appboy or a data management platform like mParticle. If you can anticipate this shift in focus, you can invest in a tech stack that will meet your present and future needs. This will make your life much easier in the future because it can be difficult to onboard historical information to platforms that you are newly adopting. Thus, it’s a good idea to have a complete tech stack in place before you do any mobile UA.


Also, if you set up your tracking to work for all marketing tactics, you’ll have the benefit of being able to compare mobile UA to other forms of digital and non-digital marketing. Mobile UA isn’t in a silo. You’ll be able to make the best strategy and budgeting decisions when you can see how all of your marketing results are intertwined.


Leverage all of the ways that vendors can help you to be successful


Each vendor you work within the app marketing ecosystem is likely to have ways that they can help you that you don’t yet know about. This includes media networks, attribution providers, analytics providers, tech platforms, and mobile app agencies like TMGA. Have regular conversations with your vendors and use all the information that they make available to you.


Here are 4 things to pursue with your vendors:


1.  Make sure that media networks can see your KPIs.


If a media network can’t see your most important KPIs, then they can’t optimize your media spend. Your safest play is to make sure that the media networks you work with can see all your most important KPIs by passing them from your third-party attribution provider to the media networks. Then, let the media networks know which KPI is the priority for a given timeframe.


2.  Know how your vendors can help you combat fraud.


Combatting fraud has been a big focus in the app marketing industry. As such, many of your vendors will have capabilities to prevent fraud or flag fraud. It’s unlikely that the problem of fraud will disappear. However, there’s a lot that you and your vendors can do to mitigate the negative effects of fraud. At a minimum, you can avoid paying for fraudulent responses to your advertising. For example, TMGA has negotiated refunds of over $25,000 for our clients.


3.  Understand how your tracking data gets surfaced in third-party and fourth-party dashboards.


Ultimately, you want to know what costs and revenues you can attribute to each component of your paid media plan. Your attribution partner may have the revenue attribution, but still leave it to you to pull cost information individually from every media network in your plan.


This difficult situation is exacerbated by the fact that media networks may post your cost and revenue data a little differently. For example, different networks may post your data to different time zones. Or, they may post your cost per install data to either the time of the install itself or to the time of the click leading to the install. There’s an even greater range of how revenue gets posted within third-party dashboards and by media networks. These differences mean that your ROI data will never line up 100%.


Dashboard solutions from cost aggregators like Singular and Tenjin are beginning to address the difficulty of cost attribution. You link up your app and your media networks and then the data starts flowing into a fourth-party dashboard. The biggest downside with these solutions is that it’s unlikely they support all the networks you work with. If a network that you work with doesn’t have an API integration, you will most likely need to upload cost data manually. You may be stuck with this manual step until you’re able to persuade all of the media networks you work with to do API integrations with your dashboard provider.


4.  Before working with a vendor, find out if they can leverage your historical data.


If you’ve been marketing an app for a while, then you don’t want to spend money on UA for users that you may already have. You can avoid this by sharing your historical app marketing data with your third-party attribution provider. If you’re thinking about working with a new third-party attribution provider, check to see if the prospective provider can onboard your historical data. If they can, see if they will also keep this data confidential. You may need to get a non-disclosure agreement in place in order to ensure the confidentiality of your data.


Also, find out if the media networks you work with can use your historical data. Some media networks can use it as a suppression list in order to prevent your ads from showing to people who already have your app. Not all networks offer this capability, so be sure to find out which media networks don’t offer it. Then, weigh the pros and cons of working with these networks that can’t leverage your historical data.


Choose a single source of truth


By following the recommendations above, you’ll lay a solid foundation for profitable mobile UA. You’ll do this by collaborating with internal and external experts on KPI tracking and by leveraging all of the ways that vendors can help you to be successful.


There’s one final thing that you need to do to be successful. Choose a single source of truth that can guide your decisions about your mobile UA strategy and tactics.


Each of your vendors will be providing you with different data and none of it is going to match up perfectly. So, you have to figure out where you can get the most representative picture of all your mobile UA activities. It may be through a business intelligence tool, internal data, a fourth-party dashboard, or a third-party tracking provider. Even if your top choice is imperfect, go ahead and choose it as your single source of truth and use it as a baseline.


Once you’ve chosen your single source of truth, by all means, go ahead start spending on mobile user acquisition. Be sure to give your media networks a way to view your single source of truth so that they can understand how your campaign with them is performing and make better optimizations for you. In addition, compare your single source of truth to your other data sources from time to time. For example, if you use internal systems as your single source of truth and it doesn’t match up with your third-party tracking, you can come up with metrics to close the gap. Perhaps one of your KPI metrics is being overstated or understated in third-party dashboards. First, you should try to fix this. However, if you can’t fix it, you can estimate the size of the overstatement or understatement and tell your media partners to adjust their estimates for this KPI to levels that more closely match your internal data.

Originally published on LinkedIn by Kristina Congiusta, Head of Growth Operations at TMGA.




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