Install vs. Engagement: Two Tales of Mobile App Marketing

Install vs. Engagement: Two Tales of Mobile App Marketing

There are two primary ways to approach mobile app marketing: prioritizing app installs or prioritizing app engagement. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each campaign type will help marketers optimize their approach to driving meaningful action.

Example A: Focusing on App Installs

The last thing developers want to do is pour time and energy into an app that sits “on the shelf” after its launch. Consider this: Back in 2009, the Apple App Store gained about 3,000 new apps per month. By 2016, this number had skyrocketed to over 50,000 new app releases per month. This has led to an increasingly crowded marketplace in which apps clamor for mobile user attention. Some have coined this phenomenon the “app graveyard” because apps risk sitting in the App Store without garnering downloads.

So, it’s no wonder marketers have traditionally focused on racking up app installs. After all, if your app doesn’t even earn space users’ smartphones or tablets, how can they go on to further engage? The underlying thought here is that you have to walk before you can run. Thus, driving installs becomes the primary marketing goal.

It costs nearly $65 to acquire a user that goes on to make a purchase, but just $4 to get someone to install your app. For this reason, let’s say Marketing Team A decides to run a Cost-Per-Install (CPI) campaign for their app. This pricing model tracks installs; CPI is simply total ad spend divided by the total number of installs.

The result? This type of campaign casts a wider net and focuses on simply getting people through the door, so to speak. The number of installs will likely be greater than a more focused campaign, and each install will be cheaper. However, the drawback is that only a fraction of people who install the app will go on to actually use it.

The verdict: Cheaper installs, but fewer post-install conversions.

Example B: Focusing on App Engagement

Another school of thought on how to market an app is the Cost-Per-Action (CPA) model. Rather than focusing on acquiring installs, this strategy focuses heavily on retention. Advertisers pay on the basis of engagement in post-install events rather than up-front installations. So, if someone installed a given app but deleted it before creating an account, for example, the advertiser would not pay for the install. The underlying thought here is to focus on quality over quantity.

So, Marketing Team B would first have to optimize their campaign to target more specific audiences—those filled with users statistically more likely to engage. Rather than showing ads indiscriminately across various platforms, this approach calls for using data to create target lookalike audiences; also known as people with characteristics that make them a likelier match for actually using an app. The next step is personalizing ads so these targeted users feel compelled to tap and engage. Customizable elements include the imagery, copy and screen size. The goal is to serve ads in which people see their own preferences and habits reflected.

The verdict: Pricier acquisitions, but more meaningful engagement and revenue over time.

Challenges in Modern App Marketing

As you can see, getting people to install a mobile app is just the initial challenge. According to Hubspot, app install campaigns often fall short because: “The marketer’s user base may have grown, but many of these users may not have had any active app sessions nor completed any in-app actions. In an environment where most apps are free and therefore rely on in-app purchases to drive commercial success, that’s a big problem.”

It’s abundantly clear we’re moving into an era of engagement, which necessitates using tools like target lookalike audiences and personalized advertising to entice the right kind of app users.