New App Launch Strategy: Paid Channels to Maximize Scale, Efficiency and ROI

By Thomas Hopkins | February 28, 2018

App Launch Scenario

The artists, UI/UX designers, product managers, producers, QA analysts, release managers and engineers have slaved away for the past 6 months to bring the company’s new mobile app to life. The founders and equity holders are excited to see the app in the hands of the masses. The board of directors are anxiously waiting to see the early traction, retention and monetization results. And the investors are wondering what the ROI of their seed round investment is going to bring. What now?

Enter Performance Marketing Team

A lot is riding on the marketing team at the launch of a new app. For some developers it can be the start of an amazing run that ends in a successful exit, for others it can be filled with disappointment, feature pivots, roadmap changes and eventually the dismantling of the studio as team members move on to other opportunities. In my career as a mobile app marketer I have experienced both outcomes on multiple occasions.

It is a magical experience to launch an app, watch it climb the charts, retain valuable customers and make money. When the launch is not successful, it is a painful process to be a part of and is a scenario that can leave you as a marketer wondering if you could have done anything to prevent the outcome. Did you have the right growth strategy? Did you execute well? Or was it the product’s fault? For this post I take a deep dive into which paid channels a marketer should consider when formulating their paid growth strategy.

Paid Channels to Consider When Launching a New App

  • There are so many different paid acquisition channels to consider at launch:
  • Should I lead with Facebook and Instagram? I hear targeting is great.
  • Should Ad Networks follow? Which ones?
  • Social influencers? I hear they have great ROI. How do I find them?
  • How about DSP spend? Does it make sense for my app?
  • Should I spend on Apple Search Ads and Google AdWords immediately? What keywords should I focus on?
  • What about mobile web, Outbrain and Taboola? Do those inventory sources produce positive ROAS?

Here is my guide to the top paid channels and execution suggestions to maximize scale, efficiency, and ROI:

1) Facebook
I highly recommend starting with Facebook because it has amazing targeting capabilities which teach the team about the top performing demographics, creative formats, and usually results in some of the most profitable spend. Testing different demographics and creative styles on Facebook and applying the learnings to other acquisition channels is highly recommended. While analyzing the performance data, don’t discount outliers, the data may be telling a story that might allow for new creative iterations and profitable audiences.

2) Social Influencers
If executed properly to the right audience this channel can have amazing ROI. Depending on the app type, your team size, and the demographic results from the initial Facebook spend it might make sense to try out a few social influencers. This process can be time consuming and tough to produce scale, so it is highly recommended to work with a social influencer network or agency to manage.

3) DSPs
DSPs or Ad Networks should be next. Which one to start with depends on the app category and the initial retention and LTVs. If the app has strong initial metrics and is similar to other apps, for example another slots game, match 3 game, or card game, then I would highly recommend using a DSP next. The benefit of a DSP is that they can target by Device ID across almost all apps. So, based on your game, they can target other customers who play and possibly even spend on similar apps.

In my experience DSPs, like Liftoff, allow you to target high value customers at good scale and is a lot easier to execute on and manage than when launching on multiple Ad Networks. When selecting a DSP it is important to ask them what types of advertisers are seeing success with them.

DSPs who manage acquisition campaigns for competing apps in their portfolio perform better than DSPs without competing apps in their portfolio. However, if the app’s LTV is low then it might be hard for the publisher to be successful with a DSP campaign. When evaluating DSPs be ready to discuss target CPIs and ROAS with them as they will usually be able to tell you the scale that might be expected given your target KPIs.

4) Ad Networks
Ad Networks should follow DSP spend. Ad Network spend can be pricey, testing out each new Ad Network with $10k – $20k in spend to find the top performing publishers and then optimize for performance. If the title is extremely casual and the developer is looking to make most of their revenue from advertising banners, interstitial and rewarded video inventory then Ad Network spend should come before DSP. If the app has high LTVs driven by a very targeted audience of highly engaged, high spenders (whales) then I have found that DSP spend is your best bet.

5) Search (Google UAC and Apple Search Ads)
Google UAC has amazing scale but usually have pricy CPAs and require a large budget to reach effective results. I do not recommend adding UAC until you are confident in your LTVs and ROAS targets and can therefore set the appropriate bids, budgets, and optimization techniques to prevent the waste of your precious UA dollars.

Apple Search Ads are also pricey in terms of CPA. While they allow for the acquisition of high value customers, they don’t offer much scale and requires a good amount of spend to find the proper keywords to bid on for positive ROAS. Apple Search Ads also offer benefits around determining which keywords you should try to rank for in terms of ASO (which I will cover in a future iOS ASO blog post).

6) Mobile Web
Mobile Web should be your last source of inventory. It should only be tested once you reach scale with the other sources noted above, because the mobile web generally has low conversion rates resulting in high CPIs, and requires extensive landing page testing to get it right.

The success of a new app will not be determined by choosing the right acquisition channel strategy at launch. It can however save the company a lot of money by targeting the high affinity customers first at low CPIs and working outward with scale so that every marketing dollar spent has the best opportunity to have ROI positive results.

Like anything in the Performance Marketing world, the techniques and assumptions we use on a day to day basis need to be questioned and tested. The processes should all be looked at through the lens of the unique app being marketed. Depending on the app, the channel strategy might need to deviate from the above. Based on how fast the mobile marketing industry changes I wouldn’t be surprised if the above guide is out of date in 3-6 months. Happy Launching!

Thomas Hopkins was former Director of Marketing at Penn Interactive Ventures (PIV), where he oversaw all mobile and web marketing across 50+ apps and 3 acquisition channels: paid, organic, and physical property marketing. Prior to PIV, Thomas worked on a 2-person UA team at Rocket Speed (formerly Rocket Games), the fastest growing social casino app of 2015 and H1 of 2016.

Learn more about Thomas from his Mobile Heroes profile or read his last blog on what he learned about Android app store optimization (ASO) having launched an app every week for 52 weeks straight.