A Complete Guide To Mobile App Marketing

Quick summary ↬
Standing out among the millions of mobile apps can be challenging, but proper marketing can give you that crucial edge. This piece shares how to start your mobile app marketing strategy and improve it as you go while keeping up with the latest trends in the market.

How often have you searched for apps in a certain category and considered downloading one below the first three or four results in the list? Rarely, I’d bet. The apps that appear in the top search results in app stores are there thanks to successful mobile app marketing.

This article covers the ins and outs of mobile app marketing and walks you through upcoming mobile app marketing trends to look out for.

The mobile app marketing funnel might at first seem somewhat similar to the traditional digital marketing funnel. However, the strategies involved in the former are quite different from the latter. Here are the main stages of mobile app marketing:

  1. Awareness
  2. Acquisition
  3. Retention

Before diving into these stages, let’s understand why it is important to invest your time, effort, and finances in mobile application marketing.

Why Do You Need a Well-Thought-Out Marketing Plan for Your Mobile App?

As of late, there are about 1.85 million apps for iOS users and 2.56 million apps for Android users. Additionally, over 80% of the world’s population own a smartphone, and users on average spend 5 to 6 hours daily on their phones.

These numbers speak to the importance of businesses going mobile. In fact, more than 65% of small businesses and pretty much all large corporations already have a mobile application.

Competition is tough in this neck of the woods. You will need to stand out among thousands of apps in order to succeed. It won’t happen overnight, but with a proper mobile app marketing plan, it is possible.

The Stages of a Mobile App Marketing Strategy Explained

Mobile app marketing takes the user through every stage of the marketing funnel – from the moment they first hear of your app to being a loyal user. Sometimes, the user will go back and forth from one stage to another, which is why the whole process is also referred to as the mobile engagement loop.

Mobile engagement loop: Look after loyal customers and catch up with lapsed ones
Mobile Engagement Loop: Look After Your Loyal Customers and Catch up with the Lapsed Ones. (Large preview)

There is a lot to mobile app marketing: determining your target audience, defining the ways to reach them and contact them, analyzing their behavior in your app to improve their experience, etc.

Long story short, your goal is to increase the number of your app’s downloads and, ultimately, of loyal users, who might then recommend your app to others. Loyal users are the foundation of your product’s success.

Let’s go through each stage successively.

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1. Awareness Stage

This is the prelaunch stage when the main focus is on building awareness and visibility of your brand. At this point, you will already need clear brand messaging and positioning — the who, when, why, where, and how of your brand’s identity. Having these points defined will help you connect with potential customers on a deeper level — where you’re offering them actual value and meaningful relationships.

Below are a few tips to guide you through the awareness stage of your product’s mobile app marketing.

Decide on a Launch Date

This is crucial if you want to avoid unexpected issues that may arise when your product is ready for release. For example, Apple typically reviews apps under stricter rules than Google. This could delay the release unless you plan it in advance. Also, remember to check all events that will take place around the time of your launch. If there are events that could possibly outshine your product’s release, consider changing the date.

Thoroughly Research the Market

Your app should solve a problem that other apps in the same category don’t. Don’t offer a solution for a pain point that has already been successfully addressed by other apps. Thoroughly research the market to understand your customer’s needs and market drivers in general.

Go through the most prominent blogs, forums, groups, and websites that your potential customers follow. Check the influencers who focus on your niche as well. This way, you can connect with your users and guide them to your product.

The ultimate goal of your market research should be to find out who your ideal customer is. One of our clients wanted to build a prescription-filling app for Canadian citizens, and before applying to us they already knew the ins and outs of their target market. In their case, the competition was not that high, which made things much easier for them when reaching out to their audience.

It goes without saying that a high-quality app should be built with an eye-catching and user-friendly design. But worry not: Things are not as complex as they sound. Nowadays, you don’t need to hire a large development team to achieve this. Outsourcing has long been the go-to tactic in such cases. Companies hire outsourcing teams to cut costs, boost productivity, and have a team of tech specialists on hand without having to “provide” for them in-house.

For more on this, see “Guidelines for Outsourcing, Sub-Contracting and Hiring Out” by Nicole Miller.

Another reason why I mention outsourcing is that outsourcing companies will help save your project if you have built a prototype and are unable to take any further steps. If the project needs to be transitioned to something else, your outsourcer will provide you with business analysts to help you make the right decision.

Coming back to market research, this can be done either by you or by a third party that specializes in it. If you already have a great marketing department, then it will handle the task. Otherwise, a lot of highly qualified specialists are out there.

Market research tools are diverse. Some of the most effective market research tools are:

Market research is a time-consuming task. Be prepared to invest a lot of effort and energy if you are doing it on your own. Here are a few tips I would like to give, based on my and my colleagues’ experience:

  • Ask yourself, “Do people need my product?” “What will it change in their lives?” “Does it address a specific need?” “What age group are my potential customers?”
  • Check out the market for similar products. Compare them with your product: Does anything make yours stand out? Will your product provide something new? Something better?
  • Do both primary and secondary market research. The former entails connecting directly with your customers. This way, you will know, for example, when your customers usually do their shopping and then be able to determine your business hours. Surveys can help you gather demographic information. The above-listed tools will help you find out this and other types of data you may need.
  • Conduct personal interviews, but be brief.
  • Gather focus groups of 8 to 10 people, and connect with them regularly to learn how your product is used, what they like about it, what they dislike, and how you can improve.
  • Take advantage of secondary market research that’s been gathered by others and is available for public use. This is an affordable and fast way to get some useful information about your target market. However, don’t make the common mistake of using secondary research only.

Build User Personas

A user persona is a semi-fictional character who embodies your ideal customer. They can be created based on your potential users’ demographics, background, mobile choices, general interests, and other specific identifiers.

In short, user personas will guide you in your entire mobile app marketing journey, helping you to understand:

  • the problems and pain points of your target audience,
  • their OS of choice,
  • the content that appeals to them,
  • the tone of voice they relate to,
  • visual patterns that catch their eye,
  • their favorite influencers,
  • the paid-ad platforms they engage with most.

User personas help you to paint a clear picture of your target audience and to home in on problems they might be experiencing, which you will later address with your app. User personas will also help you create a more customized experience, one that will closely match their expectations and address their needs.

Carry Out Competitive Analysis

If you don’t know your competitors inside and out before developing your product, then you are likely to fail. List your top 5 to 10 competitors, and make a feature matrix, which could include attributes such as pricing, rankings in app stores, UX advantages and disadvantages, reviews, interesting and eye-catching identifiers (design patterns, call-to-action text, promotions), etc. Then, be sure to produce an app that lacks the flaws and drawbacks of your competitors. Carefully consider all of the features that your app will offer. What is it that makes your product stand out among the competition?

Build a Website or Landing Page

A pre-release website will give you a head start on marketing your product before it goes live. It can be a great tool to gather email addresses and to update potential users on the progress of your app. (Though, be careful not to overwhelm them.)

If you are not ready for a full-fledged website, then a landing page or a teaser video could help you with some early marketing. The video could later be used in app stores, social media, and paid ads. (More on this in the acquisition stage.)

Create Connections (Influencer Marketing)

Reach out to influencers, outlets, and bloggers who are prominent in your industry, and send them a link to your landing page with a short and honest pitch. These types of outreach initiatives will help you get backlinks and genuine reviews.

The secret is to choose the right influencers, ones who share authentic content that is relevant to your industry and target audience. If you have a limited budget, keep an eye on micro-influencers. They have a genuine bond with their audience and high engagement rates. And they don’t charge nearly as much.

Make the Most of Social Media

Social media pages are an excellent source of traffic, now more than ever. They provide a direct and laid-back means of communicating with your target audience. This is where you can regularly post engaging content and update your audience on the latest product developments. Keep in mind that your social media accounts should clearly indicate that you have a mobile app, with the corresponding download links. Consumers spend 145 minutes daily on social media, and many of them prefer to shop right then and there.

For one of our clients, we integrated social media into their product’s app to achieve the best results. With the help of an “Invite a friend” button, users could tell their friends about the app through Facebook or Twitter right from the app. Additionally, our client decided to go further and encourage people to invite friends, adopting a much stronger strategy: Every time a friend joined the app, the user would receive a certain amount of money as a reward. Moreover, as soon as that new user took action in the app, they would receive the same “encouragement”.

Content Marketing

Develop a solid content marketing strategy to build awareness and trust with your target audience months before the product’s launch. Write a blog (you can use the blog posts in your email marketing and social media campaigns as well), show screenshots and videos of your app, talk about its best features and the problems it solves, etc.

In order for your product to gain visibility through content marketing, you will need to answer questions that interest potential customers, address their problems and needs, and catch their attention, without overwhelming them with information.

Test different formats of content to see which your audience engages with most:

  • social media posts,
  • podcasts,
  • YouTube videos,
  • eBooks,
  • blog posts,
  • webinars.

Create a schedule for publishing content. Select the dates based on how long it will take you to develop high-quality content.

Content marketing doesn’t have to be expensive to succeed. You can start by writing all of the content on your own or by assigning it to your in-house team. At the end of the day, you are the experts on the product, so why not write more about it to engage with more people? Be brief. Don’t be too promotional. Feel free to joke around, yet do it genuinely.

2. Acquisition Stage

In this stage, the focus is on gaining users for your app and generating installations using a number of different marketing strategies. The acquisition stage is a continual process that requires regular refinement and follow-up. It’s important to have your downloads skyrocket, especially in the first week of launch. This will ensure a high ranking in app stores.

Note: Always keep track of the source of your most downloads. This way, you will identify the most effective and profitable channels, and at the same time, you will be able to make some tweaks to improve the others.

You can employ a number of creative strategies in the acquisition stage. Let’s look at some of the big ones.

As soon as your app is released, it’s time to start running well-targeted paid ads on various social media websites. Focus on the ones where your audience hangs out most. For example, most millennials and Gen Z members are on Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram. When creating ads, make the messaging unmistakably clear. You have only a few seconds to grab the user’s attention.

App Store Optimization

App store optimization (ASO) is the search engine optimization (SEO) of mobile app marketing. Just like SEO, ASO is an ongoing process that requires constant testing and measuring in order to boost visibility and increase app downloads. The purpose of ASO is to get your app into the top search results in app stores.

Build your ASO strategy on two pillars:

  • Discoverability
    This is the selection of properly targeted keywords that will help your app rank higher.
  • Conversion
    The number of downloads your app will get will largely depend on your choice of the app’s icon, description, and screenshots. The more eye-catching, engaging, concise, and useful they are, the higher the conversion rates will be.

Note: Over 65% of app downloads derive from organic search in app stores. This once again highlights the importance of ASO in your mobile app marketing.

A good ASO strategy depends on a number of factors:

  • Keywords
    The proper choice of keywords will help users find you among the millions of other apps. Note that keywords are not set in stone. They can and should be updated over time, according to factors such as competitor research, cultural differences and preferences, and performance results. Choose the right keywords through competitor research, user reviews (track their word choice — prospective users might relate to it more than they do to your wording), and further monitoring of the impact that the keywords are having on your ranking and downloads.
  • App store category
    You can rank in app stores in two ways: by category and in general. You are free to choose the category that your app belongs to. Your choice should be based not only on relevance, but also on the level of competition — that is, where you have better chances of ranking highly. Choose the category where your app fits best, and consider the way your competitors have categorized their apps. Recategorizing the app after some time is possible if your current category becomes too competitive and hard to break through.
  • App title and icons
    Your app’s title and icon are the first impressions you’ll make on potential users. Keep them simple, memorable, and unique. Make sure your title has a keyword in it as well.
  • Screenshots and video
    Include screenshots that display your app’s value, best features, and benefits. Additionally, add a short and simple video with text to garner more attention.
Dzain: creativity testing app
Dzain: creativity testing app. (Large preview)
  • Slideshows
    Slideshow presentations are a good place to start with your ASO. A client of ours created a slideshow about their app and made it available on various online channels, thus raising brand awareness and increasing app downloads.
  • Testing
    Regularly test new designs to achieve optimal results.
  • Optimizing for voice search
    Virtual assistants such as Google, Siri, Alexa, and Cortana are widely used by consumers worldwide. Asking your mobile device to find something for you is much easier and faster than typing it. This is why you should also work on optimizing voice search results. Focus on conversational keywords related to your product, because users are more casual in their choice of words when speaking than when typing.
  • Go global
    If you want more people to use your app, then you will need to localize it by translating it into the languages of the countries you are targeting.

Lean Into Video

In 2021, about 69% of all mobile traffic was from video content. This number is expected to increase to 79% by 2027. Video content grabs the eye more easily and is more engaging than text. The key is to keep the video simple, short, and relevant, and to select the right platform to post it. Almost all major social media platforms (Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat) are now based on video and visual content. They are terrific places to introduce yourself to your target audience.

It has been quite fruitful for us. When one of our clients wanted to introduce their app to potential customers in a way that would clearly display the app’s features and benefits, we came up with a mobile video campaign. The campaign showcased videos of their product showing off its features, giving potential users a clear idea of what they would get. As a result, they got new customers and boosted their brand awareness. Additionally, the video campaign resulted in word-of-mouth marketing. Coming across the video online and later experiencing the app’s functionality, users were eager to tell others about it.

3. Retention Stage

As difficult as it is, acquiring users is not enough. You need to retain them, keep them engaged in your app, and turn them into loyal customers. Running your retention campaigns together with your acquisition campaigns will ensure active engagement from the onset.

Let’s look at some effective ways that make users jump on board for the long term.

Communication

Use in-app messaging to build more interactive and trustworthy relationships with users. For example, you could send warnings about app issues and payment failures, share product updates, offer help, and notify users about upgrades. The key is to send relevant messages by segmenting your audience; this will help you deliver more value to them.

Push Notifications

Alert users about special rewards, content access, coupons, promotions, and any other enticing offers by sending them push notifications. This is a great way to boost engagement.

User Experience

Make the user experience seamless — you will never get a second chance to make a first impression. When users download your app, they should glide through it with no issues, whether related to design, functionality, features, or ease of use.

The links below are good places to get started, and there are hundreds more where they came from in Smashing Magazine’s “UX” category:

A/B Testing

Regular A/B testing will improve your app’s features according to user preferences. Suzanne Scacca’s article on A/B testing for mobile-first experiences is an excellent starting point.

AI and Chatbots

You cannot always answer questions from customers as soon as they come in. At the same time, customers are frustrated by waiting. This is where conversational AI chatbots come into play.

Chatbots provide immediate answers to questions, creating a sense of human interaction. Chatbots can help you in many ways:

  • accepting and canceling reservations;
  • placing orders;
  • running surveys, quizzes, promotions, and contests;
  • answering questions based on preprogrammed scripts and AI;
  • collecting customer feedback;
  • ensuring 247 service for customers.

Chatbots are a great tool to boost customer satisfaction and to free up time for your support staff.

Personalization

We are in the age of personalized marketing — users appreciate it when you make them feel special. Personalize the experience of your app. Address the user by name, offer birthday discounts, display products that match their recent views and purchases, and so on.

Keep It Simple

Don’t overwhelm users with a lot of requirements for personal information when they sign up. You’ll risk alienating them from the start.

In this article, I wanted to give you a complete picture of modern-day mobile app marketing, how it is expected to evolve, and what you can do to implement it correctly. If you want some more insight on mobile app marketing, here are some recommendations for further reading:

  • The Complete Guide to Mobile App Marketing, Adjust
  • “Factors Influencing Quality of Mobile Apps: Role of Mobile App Development Life Cycle, Venkata N. Inukollu, Divya D. Keshamoni, Taeghyun Kang, and Manikanta Inukollu
  • “Mobile App Monetization: App Business Models in the Digital Era” (PDF), Ailie K. Y. Tang
  • “Mobile App Marketing Insights: How Consumers Really Find and Use Your Apps” (PDF), Google
  • “Mobile Marketing 2.0: State of the Art and Research Agenda”, Unnati Narang and Venkatesh Shankar
  • “Marketing Plan for a Mobile Application” (PDF), Camilla Koljonen
  • “The Advanced Guide to Mobile App Marketing” (PDF), Buzinga
  • “App Download Data (2022)”, Mansoor Iqbal
  • “How Many Smartphones Are in the World” (February 2022 mobile user statistics), BankMyCell
  • “Average Time Spent Daily on a Smartphone in the United States 2021”, L. Ceci, Statista
  • “The Ultimate Guide to Mobile App Marketing: 27 Best Tips for 2021”, ComboApp
  • “A Smashing Guide to the World of Search Engine Optimization”, Frederick O’Brien
  • “65 Percent of App Downloads Come From Organic Searches”, Tim Maytom
  • “Mobile Marketing Trends for 2022 (Including Statements From Industry Leaders)”, Silvija, Udonis
  • “Daily Time Spent on Social Networking by Internet Users Worldwide from 2012 to 2020”, Statista
  • “Mobile Data Traffic Outlook”, Ericsson
  • “App Marketing Guide 2021: Best Strategies to Promote Your Mobile App”, Anastasia Khomych
  • “Mobile App Marketing Costs: How to Plan Your App Marketing Budget”, BuildFire
Smashing Editorial
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