23 essential mobile app marketing strategy trends for 2023
If you wanted a stable, secure, and unvarying job, you should have taken a role in government. Instead, you chose mobile marketing. User acquisition. App growth. Not shockingly, being in tech and the fastest-moving part of tech, everything is changing all the time.
And that means that those of us in the space need to be learning all the time.
So here are 23 of the most important and essential mobile app marketing trends for 2023, from measurement to campaigns to AI-driven data modeling to old-school marketing tricks your grandparents could have used.
1) Lean in to the current Cambrian explosion in measurement and attribution
Mobile app marketers will be forced to embrace a wider diversity of measurement
Simple is good, except when it doesn’t work. Everything should be as simple as it can be while simultaneously as complex as it needs to be. And frankly, in mobile app marketing, complexity is kinda winning right now.
Think about it. We’re quickly approaching the days in which you’ll need easily seven different kinds of data that app marketers will need to account for in order to know the score in your game of growth. (Hint, hint: get a platform that acquires them all, simplifies them all, and unifies them all. What platform could that be?)
Let common sense prevail, of course. If you’re lucky and good, and have 40-50% percentage of IDFA opt-in, maybe you can model for the invisible 50-60% and that’s enough. For most, however, you’ll need SKAdNetwork data modeled with the aid of first-party data, with a dose of MMM and incrementality thrown in for good measure every month or quarter or so.
2) Re-advertise and remarket, even to earned and owned audiences
Mobile growth pros will advertising even to existing users/players/customers
Your best audience for newer and deeper ways to engage with what you do and what you offer is the people who are already in your app and already doing the kinds of things that are good for them and financially rewarding for you.
The goal: take them from where they are, and just move them up one or two notches.
“If you want to increase average revenue, or average impressions per day [your best strategy] may be trying to move the users who watch zero to just watch one, or the users who watch one to watch five.”
– Brian Truman, VP of ad revenue and product, GSN games
The good news>
3) Strategically layer “brand” and “performance” advertising
App marketers are breaking traditional boundaries in advertising
Stagger, layer, and mix brand-oriented campaigns with performance-oriented campaigns. Introduce yourself and say hello before asking for their number. Buy them a drink before asking for a date.
Interweave multiple ad methodologies in one cohesive campaign that says …
- “Hi” and
- “Let’s go out” and
- “Here’s why we should” and
- “BTW, here’s an incentive” and
- “Hi again” and
- “How are you today” and
- “Wouldn’t this opportunity be awesome”
… in a seamless and slightly repetitive way on multiple channels to enable a surround sound marketing effect that drives more impact than one kind of message, in one way, via one channel, at one time can ever accomplish.
Additional benefit: you look bigger than you are, achieving the “they’re everywhere!” effect for even a relatively small brand.
4) Lean into data modeling to make privacy-safe attribution useful
Mobile app marketers will demand AI-driven data modeling for missing insights
The hottest models of the year will be the math geeks.
Privacy thresholds and deliberately inserted noise data to obfuscate devices and identities means modeling for missing data is table stakes for being able to compete with other marketers and apps. That’s true today on iOS, and it’ll be true soon on Android: almost immediately for kids apps, but within a couple of years for all apps.
“You need to become much better at AI and data science … there’s a lot more data modeling now that we do. Just SKAdNetwork alone caused an entire roadmap in my company for advanced modeling and LTV prediction and trying to make SKAN useful. And I already see the same things with Google’s solution.”
– Gadi Eliashiv, CEO, Singular
5) Demand predictive analytics
Mobile growth leaders know that prediction is now driving optimization
On iOS, everyone is getting minimal data, and only very, very early data. That means you need modeling to fill it out (see above) but you also need predictive analytics to make it useful for short-term campaign and channel optimization.
Predictive analytics used to be a nice-to-have. Now they are literally the difference between life and death, between being able to optimize adspend and just kind of yanking levers at semi-random.
6) Use brand to improve performance outcomes
Mobile app marketers will use brand advertising to improve CPI, CTR, CR, and more
Very few people will become an instant customer. Almost no one goes from who-are-you to here’s-my-wallet in ten seconds flat. So soften the ground. Prepare the way. Work on hearts and minds with a little bit of brand marketing to introduce yourself and make yourself known … then layer on the performance marketing.
“Your lower funnel is only going to perform for so long before performance diminishes without branding.”
– Liz Emery, VP Mobile & Adtech, Tinuiti
The best part: good brand marketing feeds performance marketing. The reason is simple: you’ve already introduced yourself. You’re not a complete stranger. And, as such, any promises or offers you make in performance marketing are that much more credible.
“You can’t be only looking at final conversion and optimizing towards that … if you optimize only on final conversion or only at click-through rate, and you take the hit on retention … it’s not necessarily a good combination … you have to always look at the big picture and how if … you get much better users and much, much higher retention, it can be beneficial on the big picture.”
– Tatu Petersen-Jessen, Art Director, Rovio
The big picture matters. And while top of funnel metrics are important, at the end of the day only profitable actions drive good business outcomes. The challenge is that sometimes you get there via the road less traveled by most performance marketers.
7) Mobile app marketers will realize that organic is back, baby
The best things in life (and work) are free, right?
Obligatory caveat: paid is always going to be a big part of most brands’ mobile app growth strategies, and that’s OK. But as signal decomposes and efficiency declines, you’re going to see an increasing emphasis on organic.
Look: if Elon Musk can build a $850 billion business without spending a dime on traditional paid advertising, are you going to tell me you can’t get people to download an app without feeding $5 million a month to Facebook, Google, Apple Search Ads, and the other titans of adtech?
Maybe you haven’t built something remarkable enough.
The worse your app, the less amazing and less mind-blowingly awesome it is, the more same-old-same-old-new-package-old-isht your app is, the less organic growth you can get and more marketing dollars you have to shovel out the door to drive a wheezing, coughing, stuttering growth engine.
Second obligatory caveat: organic isn’t free. It takes time, people, and creativity.
8) Obliterate the box
In an increasingly noise space, creativity is not optional
Mobile growth strategists are getting more and more creative to break ad blindness, to stand out among 10,000 other apps that also have balls and nets and goals, and to demand attention by simple virtue of being unignorable.
What do you mean, get out of the box? What is the box? Why is there a box?
That’s why we’ll increasingly see smaller and growing apps take big swings. Do crazy stuff. Creative is more important than ever. Ideas are becoming more important than ever. You’re not just out of the box … you’ve flattened the box. Destroyed the box.
“Scale is not going to be an advantage in the future. In that kind of situation, everything looks right and everybody else can easily match the products. The one differentiator will be creativity.”
– Raja Rajamannar, CMO, Mastercard
The box never existed in the first place.
9) Revive the old school, new cool marketing tricks
Modern growth marketers will … survey … their customers
When one of the most sophisticated apps and brands I know wants to know which channels are most successful at acquiring new users and customers, they … simply … ask … them. Yep: an old-school “where did you learn about us” Q&A.
Like it was 1979.
Sure, they still use all the fancy analytics and attribution and SKAN and everything else. But they layer it up with direct-from-customer feedback and input. Closer to your customers means closer to the money.
10) Embrace the ineffable beauty of data taxonomy
Smart advertisers are insanely meticulous about their data
American general Omar Bradley, the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, famously said “Amateurs talk strategy. Professionals talk logistics.”
In mobile marketing, wannabes talk about the amazing campaign they would have created “if only corporate had balls” while professionals talk the completely boring and seemingly inconsequential practice of ensuring squeaky-clean data and super-tight taxonomy. If armies march on their stomachs, marketers march on data … and bad data means bad decisions.
“Data taxonomy is critical: everything rests on how clean and well-structured your data is.”
Andy Carvell, Partner, Phiture (via Growth Gems)
It might be boring. It’s also essential.
11) Migrate your language from “users” to customers, players, buyers, or pretty much anything else
Marketers win when they respect the people they want in their apps
You don’t mind if I add a personal pet peeve in this list, do you?
Talking about “users” is disrespectful. While the time they spend in your app might be the only way you come to know them, people are much more than that. In fact, viewing them just as interchangeable, indistinguishable, impersonal “users” might just be one of the reasons why they don’t stick around for very long.
Old-school retail teaches us that the customer is royalty. Given that we spend $5 to acquire a “user” only to lose that “user” on D1 or D3 or D7, and have only three or seven of each original 100 left at the end of a month, we should both think of them in better ways and treat them with gold gloves.
After all, that one that stayed cost you $50 or $75.
(All that said, this isn’t an ironclad rule. There are exceptions. Yes, I will sometimes say “user.” No one needs to torture their tongues to come up with alternatives all the time. But those exceptions shouldn’t be the rule.)
12) Add personalized onboarding flows for new app installers
You do not have to know which ad a person clicked on, where they came from, or what channel worked to present a personalized onboarding experience in your app.
Two buttons, “Show Me Around,” and “Jump Right In” will provide paths for both those who want to figure it out on their own and those who want a guide on the side. And options like “I’m done” or “Show me more” at each step of your onboarding tour let people drop out when they’ve learned what they needed to know.
That gives you the best of both worlds, and lets people customize their own early experience with your app.
“Continue to improve any sort of user flow … CPIs are getting expensive. They’re not going to get cheap anytime soon. So, just improve your existing user flow.”
– Miray Alanlar, Senior Product Marketing Manager, FOX Bet and PokerStars
All that said … if you know what ad a person clicked on, you have an advantage. Sometimes even if you can’t find that out via GAID or Google referrer on Android or IDFA or SKAN on iOS, you can know it via cohort and timing and source, which gives you likely campaign. Tailor the first few screens, and remember what brought these new players or customers to the table in the first place.
13) Recognize that subscription fatigue is a real thing
Sometimes that dream of beautiful money flowing in each month is just … a dream
Look, everyone wants the super-sexy subscription model that turns into a coin-operated cash machine. I get it.
But people are not going to subscribe to everything. Not every app works for a subscription. Not every utility provides enough utility to be worth monthly rent. And we’re seeing increased evidence of subscription fatigue in our inflationary economy right now. So find a monetization model that works for you and respects your customers/users/players, and leave the get-rich-quick schemes to the crypto crowd.
Oh, and mixed models are OK. They might even be preferable.
Ads for some, IAPs for others, subscriptions for others, with some overlap between all models and all of the people in your app. So, yes, the Battle Pass might be great for 1% of your players. But 90% of them are sticking to those rewarded ads.
14) Find good proxy metrics for numbers you can’t get
The best growth teams find numbers they can get to predict metrics they cannot
If you’re not getting great early data on installs because your SKAN postbacks are coming in 24 hours or less and your app isn’t built around D1 conversions or early positive ROAS, you need to find proxy metrics that increasingly accurately predict the metrics you need.
On-demand apps might get great D1 data, because few people install Lyft just to look at the pink mustache. Retail apps might also get downloaded because people are buying something specific and
No early data … no purchases in the first day or week? Need proxy metrics
15) Reduce platform dependencies by exploding points of contact
Allowing Google or Apple to own contact to your customer is dangerous
The dominant mobile platforms have created the space in which mobile apps and mobile marketing works and flourishes. That’s great, and it’s understood. But as a brand and a business, having a single point of failure between you and your ability to connect with your customer, deliver value to your users, and entertain your players is dangerous. Smart mobile marketers diversify points of contact by finding additional ways to communicate and connect with the people in their apps.
“It is critically important for you to find ways that are natural, normal, and built into your growth mechanic, your growth loop, and the way that your app functions to have more than one point of connection with your user and with your customer.”
– John Koetsier, analyst and journalist
(Yes, you’re not going nuts. That is me quoting me. The nerve.)
The company closest to the customer wins. Be that company.
16) Capitalize on the mobile web
The web is a tabula rasa for marketers, offering massive opportunity
An ad in a mobile app is small and limited. A product listing on the App Store or Google Play has limitations as well. But what you can do on the mobile web is as wide open as your imagination, with multiple landing pages customized to different segments, varying onboarding flows, and all the room in the world for as much content and marketing as you want to publish and people want to consume.
“Everybody we’ve worked with that has grown month-on-month post-ATT has leaned on web-based flows. I’m not going to say that works for everybody, not going to say it works for every vertical. But I absolutely recommend everybody, at the very least, test it.”
– Shamanth Rao, Founder and CEO, RocketShip HQ
SKAN 4 offers new opportunities for web-to-app measurement, and deeplinks still work. Use them
17) Recognize that retention is the new acquisition
Mobile marketers know that the users/customers/players they keep are the people they don’t have to replace
I noticed the other day that MAU Las Vegas, formerly the mobile user acquisition show — I mean, check the acronym — is now the “world’s leading mobile acquisition and retention summit.” Getting new people to try your app and use it is hard and expensive.
It’s been a truism for years, but keeping the ones you have is sometimes the best investment you can make.
“Bottom of funnel users are actually the proof of the business case that engineers and product managers worked such long hours to build … you can do like a lot of things by just analyzing the bottom of funnel: you can create different data science models to target the right users, so you spend your dollars more effectively and acquire the right users and so your UA funnel is less leaky, which is a dream for any mobile marketer.”
– Miray Alanlar, Senior Product Marketing Manager, FOX Bet and PokerStars
Look: don’t take this too far. With no acquisition, there’s no growth. But retention is an essential cash-preservation strategy that lowers your overall CAC … customer acquisition cost.
18) Remember it’s a growth stack, not a growth smack
Mobile user acquisition pros are focusing on quality over quantity
I’m a tool geek just as much as anyone else, but when you have literally dozens of tools at your disposal it’s a full-time job just to check each one. Then fitting together all the morsels of insight from each?
Look, we all love the Mobile Growth Stack and Andy Carvell, but if you got one tool out of each box on that chart, you’d probably be paying about $7 million/month in SaaS fees, and you’d need to hire a team of 40 just to manage them all. (It’s possible that I’m exaggerating, slightly).
“Focus on quality over quantity. So like, really, are you getting the whole juice of your mobile retention stack? Are you really leveraging the power of emails, push, personalization? Are you testing your middle banner, top banner? Are you testing? Are you using rich notifications, like songs, like rich images, GIPHYs, like video? So really, like get all the juice of your life cycle/retention stack.”
– Miray Alanlar, Senior Product Marketing Manager, FOX Bet and PokerStars
Find a thing that works. Or 3 of them. Then stick with it.
19) Adopt unified metrics across all teams
Growth experts are adopting one set of metrics for acquisition, retention, lifecycle, brand, and performance teams
Misaligned growth metrics and marketing measurement can easily result in local optimization at the cost of global wins. It’s great for User Acquisition Manager 17B to hit their bonus, but not so great when it comes at the cost of engagement, retention, and overall profitability.
So unified your measurement and metrics.
“Having a unified measurement plan between all the different components of your marketing is instrumental in succeeding in marketing [and] not just burning your money.”
– Liz Emery, VP Mobile & Adtech, Tinuiti
Oh … and share them around liberally.
“You need to have the key metrics and key milestones in mind already set with your team for both branding and the performance side.”
– Irem Isik, director of operations, Storyly
Simple and obvious, but not always easy.
20) Optimize for CTR and CR on the App Store & Google Play
Smart mobile marketers optimize for clickthrough and conversion rate optimization
How does Google know which apps to show someone? How does Apple decide? There are plenty of factors here, but an absolutely key metric is what happens when people land on your app listing. And what they do when your app shows up in a list of search results or featured apps.
Do they check it out? Do they watch your video? Do they, most importantly, click the oh-so-yummy GET or INSTALL button? If you have a high clickthrough rate in searches or listings, and you convert well when people actually view your app, Google and Apple love you. You are their best buddy. And they want to show you off all over town.
(That’s a good thing.)
ASO is not dead, and marketers who master it achieve way more organic success.
21) Be a hacker
Savvy mobile marketers find glitches in the matrix
Whenever there’s massive change, there are opportunities to get ahead. To find the gap, find the loophole, find the edge. Within reason — and within the boundaries of what’s ethical — find that advantage.
One example: when iOS 14.5 dropped, few were ready to measure marketing effectiveness with SKAdNetwork. So spend shifted to Android. Real CPIs went up on Android, and despite measurement gaps showing insane CPIs on iOS, crafty mobile acquisition experts kept spending on iOS, knowing that their actual costs were nowhere near those numbers.
Essentially, they capitalized on a short-term sale on new mobile app users on iOS.
You can do the same: finding gaps and cracks and ways to win.
“There is a place to be more sophisticated in the way that everyone … is doing user acquisition, whether it’s in iOS or team creatives, network buying, Google, Facebook, TikTok … you need to explore the system, find its weakness or find its potential, and then you can kind of find places where no one else has been.”
– Moshi Blum, VP of marketing, Beach Bum
You can’t depend on this. But you should exploit it whenever possible.
22) Stay nimble
Everything is changing. Smart marketers don’t get too comfortable.
The past two years have taught us that everything is changing all the time. (As if we didn’t know that, being in tech generally, which is fast-moving, and mobile tech specifically, which is even faster moving.)
So stay on your toes!
“Just stay nimble, right? This is an ever-evolving space. Having the ability to stay nimble, and adaptive is probably the best piece of advice.”
– Alexandre Dorman, Global Sales Engineering Manager, Liftoff
23) Dive into MMM: media mix modeling (or marketing mix modeling if you prefer!)
The future is uncertain. Platform-provided measurement frameworks have their challenges and limitations, and they’re mostly based on last-click attribution which has its own detractors.
Cover all your bases by diving into MMM on a monthly or quarterly basis to ensure that you’re testing all the ad partners you’re using for incrementality and effectiveness. And to ensure that you’re looking at a holistic measurement that captures more than paid marketing and more than last-click metrics.
The really good news here is that Singular has just released the absolute simplest way to run this sometimes-challenging form of marketing measurement: Singular MMM.
It’s hassle free, with zero client-side implementation, automated onboarding, and ready-to-go out of the box models. Singular already has all your data, so there’s no simpler way to test the old (and new again) marketing measurement methodology.
The future of mobile acquisition
We just completed a webinar on the future of mobile growth, specifically focused on iOS. Check it out for hard data on what’s changing and how user acquisition on iOS is evolving in the era of ATT and SKAN. Check it out here …
Or, watch our livestream on Privacy Sandbox on Android.