How do you market a mobile app?

This is a cross-post of my answer to a question on Quora:

How do you market a mobile application?

My answer:

I think about marketing for a mobile app holistically– as a set of potential touch points on a funnel of users through the product.

At the top are new or unengaged users.   The goal of maximizing reach, and what most people think about as “marketing,” is to increase the size of the top of the funnel.

In the middle are current users.  The goal of maximizing engagement/retention is to widen the middle of the funnel.  I think of retention as engaging users to  keep playing and to come back again and again.

The goal of resurrection, at the bottom of the funnel, is to reactive users that have dropped off.

(Growth funnel, courtesy Andy Johns)

Tactics for improving reach could fit into two buckets:   Organic discovery (including in-product discovery), and Paid discovery (and I’ll include cross-promotional partnerships like Applifier here, because they’re sometimes unpaid, but they’re not organic).

My approach is to maximize opportunities for organic discovery, then use paid discovery techniques carefully, making sure that the users I attract have a higher LTV than their acquisition cost by testing, measuring, and iterating.

Here is a short list of paid discovery techniques:

Ads on paid ad networks (e.g. AdMob) and paying for installs (eg. Tapjoy)

Distribution on gaming platforms  (e.g. Mobage)

Ad inventory partnerships with other game makers via cross-promotional networks (e.g. Chartburst, Applifier).  For example, TinyCo has a partnership with Chartboost and was recently involved in a promotion with developers to keep all the revenue generated by putting TinyCo’s ads on their networks.

Paid Social campaigns (ads on Facebook, Twitter).

Featured placements on Promotional platforms (e.g.  For example, Disney has several apps listed on FreeAppADay.

SEM (Search CPC).(Prohibitively expensive  unguaranteed conversions for most games besides the most profitable, such as gambling games.  Gambling games monetize at an average of $150 per gambler.)

Carrier/device manufacturer deals .  For example, Bowling 2 was featured over a dozen times in the Blackberry app store because it was built to take advantage of the features offered by a specific RIM phone.  The game’s maker, Concrete Studios, was able to build for that phone because of strong relationships that they had built with RIM—through that relationship, they were able to get early developer access to RIM’s technology in order to make the game.

Event marketing.    Hosting events like gaming tournaments for influential fans or social media influencers.

Guerrilla marketing.  Done to create buzz and word of mouth.  Zynga uses guerrilla marketing tactics for Mafia Wars and other games.  For example, they glued fake $25,000 dollar bills to sidewalks in San Francisco promoting a contest for the game (the city wasn’t pleased).

When thinking about user marketing/acquisition and engagement, you should think about which users to acquire and engage (using segmentation and targeting).  
I would like to mention that there will be a natural tension between acquiring as many users as possible and acquiring valuable user segments (value of a user can be defined as, in order of priority, a function of their monetization, virality to attract other users, quality of feedback, and engagement on in-game and out-of game social communities).  I feel that companies should do their best to balance these two priorities simultaneously—and to recognize that they will need to pivot as the product matures.

Why should you balance acquiring as many users as possible with acquiring the most valuable users?
+ The benefit of acquiring as many users as possible is essential to becoming ranked (and therefore discoverable) in the Apple app store—which will drive organic users into the top of the funnel.  Volume is most important in the early days after launch of a game, especially when competition in the genre is high.  You can manage this with a major marketing campaign burst at launch and additional ones as needed to maintain your high rank.
Some of the benefits of segmenting and targeting only the most valuable users include higher revenue, higher engagement, and retention of loyal users. (Why loyal users are valuable: Loyal users may serve as unpaid advocates for your game, download your other games, and possibly monetize in additional ways– purchase premium versions of your product, purchase offline merchandise and more, e.g.  Angry Birds.)

(LTV image courtesy of Bloghaven


Here is a short list of unpaid/organic discovery techniques:

Here is a short list of retention/engagement techniques (gaming specific):

Hope this is helpful!


About als355

I am passionate about applying the latest user growth and acquisition techniques and frameworks to grow and engage users in gaming and consumer web companies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: