Mobile Heroes

Christina Borisova by Christina Borisova | October 18, 2021

Christina Borisova is Lead Retargeting Manager at ZiMAD, a developer and publisher of popular games for mobile platforms, PC and social networks. Over the past nine years at ZiMAD, Christina focused on developing and improving user acquisition strategies. She started as a junior marketing manager and grew to Head of User Acquisition, in charge of acquiring valuable users and placing company products in front of the right audience. Christina works closely with product teams and UA to develop an active user base for ZiMAD apps.

Read Christina’s blog in Russian here.


More than two years ago, I decided to focus on retargeting. Like many others, our team had tested retargeting campaigns, but only sporadically and with little success.

Back then, our main goal was to increase the number of new users to drive profit. But I realized there was a great opportunity in our 10-year-old app with its 100+ million user base to reactivate those users instead of just focusing on new user acquisition. It was then I began my search for a successful retargeting strategy.

My North Star: Paying and Non-paying Users

While researching retargeting, the majority of resources I came across recommended re-engaging users who made purchases.

By retargeting purchasers, app marketers can increase their share of paying users and upsell, “a method where shoppers are persuaded to buy a product of higher value, or ‘upgrade.’” I also remembered that many user acquisition channels that specialize in retargeting had expressed a desire to work with ZiMAD, as long as we had 20,000 to 100,000 unique paying users within a few months.

The most valuable users are those who make a purchase, especially if they are ‘whales,’ highly engaged and loyal top spenders who donate their time and money. As a game developer, we pay special attention to whales. We deter them from leaving and bring them back if they churn by offering exclusive content, hot sales and top priority service.

That said, app marketers only target 5-10% of the user base if they focus exclusively on the spending audience. What about the remaining 90-95% of users who never spend a penny? It’s important to remember non-purchasers. You will miss out on most of the user base if you only have eyes for big spenders.

After extensive experiments and tests, I made a checklist to guide my retargeting decisions for new and existing apps—regardless of whether they have spenders or not. My process is not universal, and it won’t work for everyone. Every product is unique. But I think my checklist offers a helpful starting point for marketers who have the same questions I did. Here’s what I asked myself, step-by-step, when I devised my retargeting strategy:

1. What Is My App About?

Put yourself in the player’s shoes to understand what attracts them. Play the game, be curious and explore what you offer. You will likely discover what features to use in your new retargeting strategy. It’s also a great exercise to understand what screens to use for deep link integrations.

2. What Metrics Does My App Have?

Analyze metrics based on three key elements:

  • User acquisition: How much does it cost to acquire new users? What are the strong geos to pay attention to? Understanding CPAs will help you determine how much you could spend on retargeting campaigns. Differentiating top geos will also provide a good overview of how to structure your retargeting campaigns.
  • Monetization: What is the ARPU and the overall LTV? ARPU and LTV provide a clearer understanding of preliminary prices you should be targeting to have ROAS-positive performance.
  • In-game behavior: Collect all the available data from your analytics team and request any additional information you might need. What do retention and onboarding look like? What are underperforming steps in your app? Where in the funnel do users churn the most? How do users engage with different features?

3. What Features Do I Use?

To discover what features to highlight in a retargeting campaign, you must play your game to see what will attract players to your app. For example, you could use in-game events or special levels if you offer them. Afterward, analyze performance metrics of users playing those special in-game events or levels. Compare the data to isolate the best features to attract returning users. I usually call these features a ‘stimulus’.

4. What Do I Consider Loyal and Highly Engaged?

The most important phase of any retargeting strategy is user segmentation. Select user conditions based on activity, but do so carefully. If you choose strict requirements, you will end up with a small, costly sample segment. If your conditions are too broad, your ROI and engagement metrics can be low.

Consider the following carefully to decide if an audience is loyal and highly engaged:

  • Engagement and LTV: This helps us understand how valuable users are even if they are not paying customers. I like to break down users by their progress (like the number of levels achieved), size of users reaching a certain rank, LTV and number of active days. The more they progress, the higher the user’s LTV and engagement. It also helps approximate cost per conversion. LTV and average costs per reengagement help predict whether efficiency is positive or negative.
  • Size of the user base: These metrics show how big or small the segment is and whether you should make gaming conditions easier or harder for users.
  • Top geos and users’ share in different countries: This is important for campaign setup when distinguishing which countries to target and whether you should target them separately or combined.

5. What Creative Concepts Do I Use?

We often hear that personalization is king and that customized creatives are a must for any retargeting strategy. At ZiMAD, we test personalized creatives designed for a specific feature (like an in-game event or a special level) against slightly different creatives used for traditional UA. For us, they have performed more or less the same. It’s always better to have several creative concepts when testing—whether you adapt the creative for retargeting or not.

Asking and answering these five questions have helped me successfully prepare countless retargeting campaigns. Even if your app does not have thousands of paying customers, you can still retarget. Your app just might require a slightly different strategy when it comes to segmenting users. You never know until you test and try.