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Mobile Heroes

James Haslam by James Haslam | October 5, 2020

Launching a mobile app is a rare learning opportunity for marketers at every level, but there are pitfalls abound. And since most people would prefer to know those mistakes before it’s too late, a soft launch can be the method to mitigating issues before they arise. Soft launches—essentially trial runs for app releases—allow marketers to gather data on what works and what doesn’t to determine whether your app will be a success.

To get the lowdown on soft launches, we’ve gathered the best ideas and tips from some of the world’s greatest Mobile Heroes. Our trio of app marketers with years of experience in the game combines their knowledge to help you navigate the woes of launching without a plan.

Before the Launch

When marketers begin their UA career, they usually work on established titles to build their experience. But when the prospect of a new app arises, newbies might not adapt their thinking. As Boram Ku, former Director of Marketing at Cookapps, notes, “marketing a brand-new app requires a very different approach than marketing well-established apps.” Boram states that marketing existing titles is all about driving the best ROI, while marketing a new app involves “more testing and collaboration with the product team—from the initial game development to global launch.”

On Boram’s first new release, she and her team came across an unexpected obstacle: low conversion rates. The app showed strong in-game metrics, but scaling up campaigns was nearly impossible due to low conversion. The question kept coming up: what’s the value of our product? “After all, what’s the point of marketing an app when you can’t get users to install and play the game?”

Boram believed that a lack of integration between product and marketing teams was to blame. She says, “this experience led us to re-envision the role of the growth marketer in the app development process. Moving forward, we included marketing early on.” The Cookapps team now starts with market tests and experimentation of various concepts and ideas to see how different app elements impact the overall conversion, while creating the app itself.

For Cookapps, Facebook is often the most straightforward channel to test new game concepts, given that results are fast and at a relatively low cost. After finding and validating a winning concept, the team focuses on testing and improving the product with the name, art styles, and in-game mechanics that resonate best. “After completing the initial development, we design additional market tests to assess specific in-game features and elements and try to improve core metrics such as retention rate. Only after this extensive experimentation phase is complete is the product is ready for soft launch.”

Read the full post for Boram’s soft-launch expertise.

The Tips and Tricks to Soft Launch Success

Once you’ve set your goals, expectations and have begun to roadmap your soft launch, it’s worth keeping a handful of tips in mind when finalizing your approach. Margarita Vasilevskaya, former Head of User Acquisition at DoubleDown Interactive, has a handful of tips that helped her launch some of the biggest social casino apps:

  • Make sure you go as broad as possible with your first soft launch campaigns. Do not narrow down the reach with precise device and demo targets.
  • Combine and target several countries simultaneously to secure good iOS volume.
  • Target high-end Android devices to increase user quality.
  • It might be worthwhile to localize ad creatives, even if the app is not localized to improve conversion rates.
  • When it comes to lower-funnel events and in-app monetization, you will want to test English-speaking T1 counties, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These geos are expensive due to high competition and limited inventory, so get ready for high CPIs and limited volume.

Margarita shines a light on the importance of defining your soft launch markets based on objectives. She points to “English-speaking Asian markets including Singapore, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand” as perfect for upper-funnel events testing, “such as retention, level completion, playtime, and so on.” While marketers can expect relatively cheap CPIs in these countries, these markets are also Android heavy, with data that might not equate to iOS performance.

Creative Advice

Margarita’s most important tip? “Use amazing creatives. High conversion rates will help bring CPI down.” Marketers can often underestimate the number of creatives they will need for a soft launch, assuming that soft launches are low maintenance and don’t need much attention. “But creatives have a direct impact on your position in the waterfall of competitors,” Margarita says.

When optimizing creatives, it’s vital to have relevant benchmarks for each ad placement and ad type. “At the end of the day, it all comes down to the eCPM you generate for networks and publishers. The higher your eCPM is, the higher you are in the competitive waterfall.” Of course, you can boost your eCPM with uncapped bids, which big advertisers often do. But with optimized creatives, you can climb up the waterfall with moderate bids, so take advantage.

To learn more from Margarita, read the full article.

How ASO Can Help or Hinder Your Soft Launch

Marketers shouldn’t overlook their store listings. Rose Agozzino, Senior Marketing Specialist at Ludia, discussed storefronts and the impact of app store optimization (ASO) at length in her Mobile Heroes blog post. She stresses the importance of “perfecting your image” by improving your app’s store page.

Rose notes that ASO plays a major role in the discoverability of an app: “But it’s not just branding or colors that are important—from your icon and screenshots down to the package name, these store elements will impact your performance.”

And just as Boram found with marketing’s lower priority from product delivery, ASO can also fall to the back of the line. Rose says, “this can cause friction when, as a marketer, you discover your game has a very generic package name.” Rose notes that “the package name has a surprisingly high impact on discoverability,” which means that you need to do the work, and start researching relevant keywords to include. After all, your package name isn’t something you can edit once it’s live, so you have to get it right the first time.

To do this, make sure to include relevant terms that fans of that brand would look for. Or, as Rose points out, “if you’re creating a genre-specific game, go ahead and include highly trafficked relevant terms to give yourself a bump at launch.”

For more marketing wizardry, read Rose’s full post on soft launches and ASO.

This blog is the very first in our series of Mobile Heroes Best of’s. We’re tackling UA, marketing channels and fraud in three more installments coming to the blog over the next three weeks. Get notified of each by signing up to our mailing list in the sidebar. Want more? Discover our Mobile Heroes content to find interviews and expertise you won’t get anywhere else.