Until now, marketers have lived in a world where they thought they had a binary choice. They could harness quantifiable and measurable performance marketing, or they could invest in brand marketing that was sure to move the hearts and minds of audiences – but not the needle on their KPIs. Or, at least, that was the popular perception in a world of near-perfect performance marketing.
That’s not the world marketers live in anymore. The data-driven construct that allowed companies to plan and spend with high confidence has been replaced by a new model and a new reality. Marketers exist in a privacy-first world where data is constrained, and the big wins don’t come easy.
Calling it the App-ocalypse may sound extreme. But the impact on marketers’ modus operandi since Apple deprecated IDFAs and Google started down the path to phase out third-party cookies is nothing less than seismic.
Marketing needs a new blueprint
From data-driven user acquisition (UA) marketers to performance marketing pros and from lifecycle experts to retention specialists, I have interviewed hundreds of marketers across all app verticals over the last few years. One message comes through loud and clear: targeting on Apple’s iOS is tougher than ever – and you can bet the farm Android will follow suit.
To drive connection and conversion, marketers are under pressure to re-think their UA strategies and how they measure their results. It demands bold and brave approaches that break the playbook. Some UA managers, notably Philippa Layburn, get high marks for being creative in how they harness incomplete data sets. The Senior User Acquisition Manager at Trailmix Games, recently named a Rising Star in the mobile games industry, went one step further to innovate new performance metrics that identify and engage valuable users (and their cohorts) from the get-go.
Other marketing leaders, notably Piyush Mishra, Head of Growth Marketing at Product Madness, are mapping new methodologies that marketers in all verticals, not just gaming, can use to develop consistent and compelling user journeys.
It all starts with an approach that harnesses signals and an always-on experimentation mindset to produce campaign creatives that are memorable and hit the metrics, Mishra told me during a recent podcast interview. The next step is to “keep the ad creative in sync” at every stage, from the ad to the app landing page. It’s an approach that minimizes variables – and risk. It also ensures minimum drop-off in the user journey and maximizes efficiency in media buying.
But there’s a catch. Even teams that are in the enviable position of having the talent to scale winning creatives, the resources to produce equally attractive (and personalized) Custom Product Pages, and the genius to measure the results have to deal with chance and change.
(By way of background, Custom Product Pages – or CPP – refers to the long-awaited feature that allows app publishers to create similar versions of their default Apple App Store product page to highlight specific app content. This powers a consistent user journey from the ad users see to the app landing page – clear messaging marketers can leverage to increase user conversions and decrease user acquisition costs.)
The brand is back
Success in a post-privacy world is highly unpredictable. To make matters worse, the headwinds facing the global App Economy have reached gale-force speeds, turning up the pressure on marketers to conserve cash, not burn it on UA.
And finally, the marketplace has become a monstrously large and massively noisy space where apps compete for audience attention. This is where a strong brand pays dividends.
“Unless you’ve built a brand, the user journey to conversion typically remains longer due to a lack of top-of-the-mind awareness,” Mishra says. Short user attention spans and limited budgets represent a dangerous disconnect marketers can only bridge with a strong brand.
The conclusion runs through my interviews with marketers and C-level leadership like a leitmotiv. They may be struggling with the lack of data, but they are overwhelmed by the requirement to establish a brand that will win them consumer loyalty and trust for the longer term (and boost customer lifetime value in the process).
Fighting smart with strong brand
The good news: marketers are beginning to grasp the value brand adds in today’s environment. They recognize the decisive role brand plays in the customer journey. It’s what gets people’s attention, it’s what drives their decision, and finally, it’s what keeps them coming back. Even better, they are building cross-functional teams and talent to capitalize on the brand opportunity.
The not-so-good news: marketers’ efforts are at a crossroads. While it’s clear that even the best performance marketing can’t compensate for a weak brand, the pathway to drive positive margins and brand strength is less defined.
The market needs data and analysis that answer key questions about the real and measurable value of brand. Fortunately, the latest BRAG Index, which stands for Brand Relative App Growth Index, provides actionable insights, informed by data, that marketers can harness to ask and answer tough questions. How does brand impact app installs and growth? What allows outperforming apps to maintain their edge and momentum? Why does user sentiment matter?
The resource, published by independent mobile growth platform Digital Turbine, Inc., and Apptopia Inc., an app intelligence provider, distills and deconstructs the winning strategies that distinguish the market leaders from the laggards into their component parts. [Disclosure: Digital Turbine retains my services as an online talent and video podcast host.]
Specifically, the index identifies four strategies winning apps have internalized to punch above their weight.
- Community Marketing – Here the focus is on customer connection, either through catering to a niche community or enabling users in that community to amplify and promote the app to their networks organically. Companies that harness this strategy orchestrate marketing tactics to create intimate and targeted campaigns that resonate with a micro-community for maximum impact.
- Product-Led Growth – Innovations and features are the main attraction, and effective advertising echoes the benefits of both to attract new audiences or extract additional value from existing users. In some cases, product quality fuels organic growth. In others, loyalty programs or efforts to incentivize users to recommend an app to friends and family accelerate the positive dynamic.
- Advertising Execution – From creative storytelling to compelling creatives, the key is not the channels, formats or approaches in the marketer toolbox. It’s how companies wield these component pieces to deliver consistent experiences and, ultimately, outgrow their peers.
- Device Integration – There’s strength in numbers, and partnerships are the core of competitive edge. Apps that choose this strategy benefit from being deeply integrated into the device experience. Whether the app is preloaded on the mobile phone or immediately visible on the home screen, the lack of friction enables easy discovery, encourages frequent use and breeds trust.
By analyzing a combination of brand performance tracking and deep app performance metrics, the index spotlights the winning apps and highlights the strategies companies across the spectrum – from startups eager to make their mark to established players resolved to hold onto market share – have executed to build strong brand and beat the market.
Brands with reason to BRAG
The apps with top BRAG-ing rights also harnessed these strategies to unlock their Brand Power. This metric, informed by research conducted by audience targeting company GWI, measures the number of consumers that had expressed awareness, interest and consideration in installing an app. Comparing intent with action (install and engagement data from Apptopia) produces what Digital Turbine calls a “new full-funnel app performance metric.”
The index identifies five high performers (Top BRAG-gers) across five app categories.
- Streaming Video: Tubi – By harnessing product-led growth, Tubi rose above the noise in a sea of free streaming apps. Moreover, the company scored a positive app review sentiment of 92%, more than double that of its closest competitor.
- Music & Audio: Audiomack – The music streaming app literally pumped up the volume on all marketing channels. More importantly, it did this after repeatedly testing efficiencies with different mobile ad networks and Search Ads on iOS – and both added up to exceptional advertising execution.
- Shopping: TEMU – This may not be the leading name in retail, but that’s where the index makes good on its promise to pick up on the fast-movers poised to have a massive impact. Here the differentiator is advertising execution. The company used advertising strategically to reach a leading position in the app store before unveiling the “Shop like a Billionaire” tagline during its Super Bowl commercial spot. The ad communicated a strong and consistent brand message reinforced when viewers went to the app store to find Temu already held the number one spot.
- Social Media: TikTok – The social media app relied on device integration (preloads) to cement its market share and reach new audiences. Removing the friction in the journey, making it dead simple for users to discover and use their app, didn’t just fuel additional growth for the market giant. The index reports following this strategy allowed TikTok to win over users despite GWI survey results that “showed the app had poor customer sentiment.”
- Travel: Hopper – While it may not be a brand superpower, it outperforms its Brand Power thanks to compelling ads on TikTok and other social networks. The company didn’t just deliver an entertaining message; it turned social media into an effective UA channel to increase buzz and decrease costs.
Significantly, the winning apps in their category don’t always have the most installs. Instead, these apps converted the greatest percentage of their Brand Power.
Give brand meaning
As the popular industry adage tells us: When times are good, you should advertise. When times are bad, you must advertise.
But marketers must also find new efficiencies. The good news is that efforts to build strong brand pay dividends at every stage in the funnel. The value is real and tangible whether it materializes in higher installs or deeper loyalty. The not-so-good news is that quantifying what defines a strong brand and how to build one is never as black and white. At times, it feels like a black box.
Now, more than ever, marketers require a framework that unravels the alchemy of brand and unlocks the blend of art and science in marketing. It’s where reports like this can be foundational, providing marketers a roadmap they can follow to “wash, rinse and repeat” strategies to build strong brand with remarkable results.
The report is available here.
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