User acquisition is advancing rapidly and becoming increasingly sophisticated. This is the key finding of a new study amongst experts in app and performance marketing who are addressing some big challenges in their pursuit of perfection. They are challenges that look set to dominate the user acquisition agenda for the year ahead as they are felt by publishers across all app categories.
Serious concerns are being voiced about the quality (and quantity) of data they must harness to engage high-value audiences (1), with ad network partnering and planning under increasing scrutiny (2). Plans to in-house user acquisition activities are accelerating (3). Key metrics are shifting towards optimisation of ROAS/LTV (4). And the role and the potential exploitation of artificial intelligence (AI) is being assessed (5).
These are the five key themes voiced by senior UA practitioners as they gear up for the year ahead that point towards a discipline that is maturing rapidly. Our survey, in conjunction with MobileGroove, spoke to 35 mobile app marketers across a wide range of app categories and included senior UA contacts at Viber, Gett, PikPok, InnoGames, Ada Health, and Free2Move. In-depth interviews were held with a large number of them to dive deeper into the opportunities and obstacles they face.
We start with a summary of 3 of these themes. A full report, which you can sign up for on this page, will cover all 5 and offer additional insights and commentary from our in-depth interviews with app marketers, shining a light on the challenges and opportunities you need to know as you plan, prioritize and invest resources to reach your performance targets for the year.
1. Data empowers but risks overwhelming
App marketers are adamant about taking more control over their data. They are unanimous in their demand for more and better data, particularly behavioural data that will allow them to drive deep-funnel actions and activities. Most see data as both a key challenge and a capability core to maintaining a competitive edge.
It’s no wonder then that the performance marketers we surveyed are obsessed with data quality, transparency and moving their knowledge and use of attribution tools and tech to the next level. But attribution solutions can also fall under the “too-much-of-a-good-thing category” as their main advantage—revealing a plethora of data points that equip marketers to detect and prevent mobile ad fraud and map out a more granular customer journey inside their app—can also drown marketers in data.
Not that these app marketers necessarily mind having increased visibility into more actionable data about their app and how audiences interact with it. As one respondent put it: “It’s definitely [a preference] for external solutions over internal ones.” However, for many marketers, it’s still a stretch to combine external attribution solutions with internal solutions that, because they are tailored to the specific needs of the company, provide what one respondent calls “the source of truth.” In this scenario, external tools flag the warning signals of ad fraud, and internal tools make final judgments and assessments. The outcome is clarity—accompanied by reams of “forensic” data that marketers must understand, analyse and act upon—in near real-time.
2. More isn’t always better – unless it’s transparent
At least that is the opinion when it comes to spending on smaller display networks. The excitement about the potential wins offered by smaller networks has been replaced by the concern that these ad partners won’t generate scale and very likely will deliver fraudulent traffic.
In the wider industry, the jury may be out on the benefits smaller display ad networks offer (as many do open the door to new markets and audiences), but marketers in this survey aren’t eager to find out. As one marketer put it: “It takes to much effort to explain what we consider fraud [to smaller display networks] and police results closely during the initial launch phase.” For this reason, this marketer has stopped working with smaller display ad networks altogether. Other marketers reveal they are in the process of “taking these ad networks out of rotation,” or dialling down spend—or both.
Meanwhile, few marketers have plans to significantly increase the number of ad networks or partners in 2019. In some cases, it’s too much work to integrate them, in others, it’s too much of a risk to move beyond trusted partners. That said, we detected some trends in the opposite direction; the re-emergence of more ‘traditional’ channels like TV, radio and podcasts, and an optimism about, and willingness to test, newer platforms (eg Smart TV & OTT) despite questions surrounding data and analytics. We will explore these more in the full report.
But another factor is also rising up to play a role: the re-emergence of more traditional channels, including TV, radio and podcast advertising. While several marketers admit it may be a challenge to measure and attribute, the opportunities offered by these platforms outweigh the perceived difficulties.
Marketers are also interested in trying and tapping new platforms for growth, and recommend their peers do the same. Reddit and Pinterest got high marks, but marketers were also bullish about Smart TV, OTT and efforts to stitch together all platforms and channels into a concrete (and measurable) multi-channel/omni-channel play. Granted, it’s early days, and there are many open questions around data and analytics that have to be addressed. But where there is a will, there is a way—and marketers are resolved to extract more value from all the data and all the touch points that define the customer journey in-app and everywhere.
3. Sea change in “who’s in charge”
Significantly, survey results suggest the move to in-housing is gaining steam, driven by much more than a desire to improve programmatic buying. In fact, the decision by the vast majority of marketers to in-house UA and other activities is driven by the need for speed, the requirement for greater data control and the gut feeling among many marketers that agencies, who must divide time and loyalties between a number of clients, aren’t truly invested in outcomes.
As one marketer put it: “From a cost-efficiency standpoint, if you’re going to spend $10 million in a year, and you’re going to pay an agency 10%, you’re going to pay that agency $1 million dollars–and that agency is not going to be putting 100% of their time towards you because they have other clients as well.” Do the maths, the respondent continues, and it simply doesn’t add up. “So, you’re paying somebody a million dollars for them to spend 30% of their time on you, versus you could build out a really good team in-house for half a million dollars and they’re 100% focused.” While this view could be considered simplistic, it indicates a perception problem faced by agencies across the industry today.
Another factor is the increased interest among some companies to build a brand, not just acquire an audience for their app. Achieving this goal requires marketers to have more control over campaign targets and segments and, more importantly, the ad creatives that serve both. Effective campaigns are customized to the needs of audiences and aligned with brand guidelines. For many, it’s work in progress, but it’s also a goal they prefer to meet with the help of internal teams, not external agencies. Even the few marketers who continue to work with agencies indicate their end-goal is to take all activities back in-house.
Significantly, our findings dovetail with recent research across the wider industry that reveals the shift to “in-housing” is no longer just about programmatic buying and cost efficiencies. In-housing is much more the lynchpin in an overarching strategy to take back ownership of the customer journey, and all the data that goes with it.
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