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Understanding User Acquisition for your Mobile App
User Experience

Understanding User Acquisition for your Mobile App

Vimlesh Gautam
 min read
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While your mobile application is up and running on the app store (iOS and Play Store), there are 3 million other apps on it too. Without targeted user acquisition strategies (UA), it may be rather ambitious to expect to find new users and convert them into long-term customers for your app.

Simply put, UA is the collective of all promotional activities that a brand performs in order to attract new customers for its product, which in turn help cover costs, grow the business and over time, make a profit. It is important that the User Acquisition Strategy is systematic and sustainable to see long-term results.

1. Define your brand image

With the unlimited pool of strategies and ideas for UA, your brand needs to establish a couple of guidelines that can ensure that your UA activities remain consistent with the brand’s image.

You can use the following steps to build the framework of your brand’s image:

Your brand strategy and value proposition

A brand strategy is a detailed document that is made in regards to what the company stands for and what its values are. It can be a pretty descriptive document and asks for a lot of details. Not many brands tend to have this from the very beginning so a good start would be to have the brand’s mission or vision statement in place. Your vision statement puts into a single sentence the reason your business exists.

Here is a great example of LinkedIn –


To create economic opportunity for every professional in the world.


To connect the world’s professionals to make them more productive and successful

Motto or tagline

Relationships matter.

2.  A clear definition of your target audience

Identify your target audience and then bring them to life by defining a persona for them. This will help specify your medium of communication and tone of expression. Hypothetically, if you are a gaming application, you may not be able to reach an audience of 16 year old boys by advertising in a women’s magazine, isn’t it?

A template like so can be used to create a persona for each category of your target audience. Image Source: www.startinfinity.com

3.  The budget you’re willing to spend on UA

If you’re looking to start an intense UA strategy, you need money. With all the competition out there, a good budget will help you get a jump-start on your customers. Although there are methods to do this for free, unpaid activities come with a limited band-width. Their scalability is limited and once you reach the ceiling, the only way forward is by investing funds in UA activities. Budgeting for UA requires a strategic approach, taking into consideration multiple factors such as the risk involved and the trade-offs. 

Only once these are defined clearly can you move on to making a strategy that is adapted and coherent to your product. There is a lot of science behind creating a strong brand identity and it is worth the effort because eventually the brand speaks for itself.

Step 2: Define a set of activities within your UA strategy

Today, there are several ways to acquire new users and while all of them may show results, it is highly recommended that the brand identifies a set of activities that are consistent to it’s values and target market and then proceed with them. It is equally important to be consistent with these activities and follow-up with them, especially in the initial stages of UA.

Here is a list of widely used UA channels and how you can integrate them into your strategy:

1. Public Relations / Unconventional Public Relations

An old school, yet extremely effective method to market your product and gain organic users. Reaching out to the media and press like magazines, newspapers and blogs and having them feature you in relevant segments can potentially gain you a lot of new users. It is important to bear in mind that the personas that you have defined of your target audience are going to guide you in shortlisting the niche publications that have the attention of your audience.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and App Store Optimization (ASO)

 Both of these processes thrive on the same principle – driving traffic to your product using keywords, at a near zero cost. The more niche your market is, the easier this process becomes. Simply put, this process requires you to find out what your target audience is searching for online and then create content which intentionally matches that specific query of the user. Do not forget to categorically utilise those keywords in multiple places within your website (titles, blogs, content, etc.). Understanding the basics of SEO related activities requires a little bit of study but when done right, it shows considerable growth. 

3. Search Engine Marketing (SEM) or Adwords

The most common platform for SEM is Google Adwords. It is the paid ad that appears when you enter certain keywords in search engines like Google and Bing. This is a very useful tool to grow your business, especially in a competitive marketplace. It allows for your ads to appear alongside the results for search enquiries, effectively improving the visibility of your product and webpage. It is important to understand the difference between SEO and SEM. Although SEO is considered to be a component of SEM, their approaches are quite contrasting. 

4. Social and Display Ads

Google Ad words is not the only advertising channel that one can use in order to gain traction. When targeted to the right audience, social media ads can be an excellent medium to gain traction. Think Facebook and Instagram “sponsored” content.

5. Content Marketing

This may not show you immediate results but when followed through consistently, content marketing is an excellent tool to drive the audience to your product. Think blogs, E-books, studies and surveys, directly targeted to your potential user. Approach other websites that are generating content similar to yours to link your content on their platforms while you do the same. This would help both parties to increase viewership and serve as a first step to collaborative content. 

6. Email Marketing

Email marketing is a great way to engage existing customers and get them to come back to your website. Once your customers have signed up using an email address, add them to your email marketing software (Eg. Mailchimp) and update them on the progress and events of your brand. But make sure not to spam. The key is to put forth content that is interesting and valuable while tactfully slipping in your updates.

7. Targeting blogs / Influencer Marketing

In today’s social media driven age, this could be considered one of the most effective methods for UA. Build relationships with bloggers and micro influencers. Think PR packages on festivals and personal milestones (yours and theirs), have them try your product, review and recommend it at their discretion. If your budget allows, this could also be turned into a paid collaboration.

8. Business Development

Partnering and collaborating with brands and start-ups can be a great way to piggy-back over each other’s target audience. Not only that, shared ad space could significantly cut costs too. Partnering companies can combine sales, shared ad space and even products.

9. Sales

Depending on what the cost of your product is, sometimes it could be best to approach your customer directly and sell your product. Something like an old school door-to-door marketing. Generate leads, qualify them and seal the deal!

10.  Affiliate Programs

Have you ever thought of rewarding the ones that spread a good word about your product? An affiliate program could be a luring way to increase business through word of mouth. Think of rewarding a percentage of sales or even a discount code to someone that refers you.

11.  Trade Shows

An all time classic! Especially great for niche and B2B products, this method could be a bit cost heavy but can yield sure shot results. Find the trade shows where you will meet your target audience; For example, Premier Vision and Who’s Next are your go-to expos if you’re in the fashion business or Maison & Objet for all things home décor.

12.  Offline Events & Community Building

Organizing events or ‘meet ups’ can be a great way to build a community around your product. The dating application ‘Bumble’ has used this method extensively and gained a lot of traction.

Step 3: Track your progress

The key goal of User Acquisition is to acquire new users and try to convert them into long-term customers. So with every campaign that you put out, you will be tracking the number of new users you gained. As the company grows, the goal is going to get bigger and you will start measuring your performance per quarter. But it doesn’t end at that; There is a set of other metrics that you have to keep an eye on, in order to track your growth. Here is a list of the basic metrics and terminology to help you get a jump start on the growth process:

1. Lifetime Value (LTV)

The most important metric of all, app marketers need to make sure they’re bringing in users that can be monetized. That’s where LTV comes in. LTV is a prediction of the profit that’s attributed to an ongoing relationship between a customer and a product, uncovering how much a user is worth over the lifetime of the app’s usage.

2. Click-through rate (CTR)

This helps you understand if an ad creative is effective with target audiences.

3. Cost per install (CPI)

This tracks the cost for generating an app install.

4. Cost per acquisition (CPA)

Here, we’re looking at how much it costs to acquire a user.

5. Average revenue per user (ARPU)

This metric tracks how much revenue a user generates on average over a period of time.

6. Retention rate

A retention rate shows the percentage of users who are still using an app after a certain number of days after install.

7. Churn rate

You can also measure churn, which tells you the rate at which your users stop coming back to your app.

8. Uninstall

Related to churn, this metric tracks how many users uninstall your app completely – and when.

9. Conversion rate

A conversion rate is the percentage of users who complete a desired action.

While all the UA techniques applied need to be tracked and analysed, the easiest to do so are ads. A lot of the marketing for UA is put out in the form of Ads. Although the platform may vary, the formats are more or less similar throughout. Let’s take a look at the various ad formats that a business can purchase across various platforms such as in-app advertisements, social media ads or even app store ads.

1. Banner Ads

Banner ads date back to the desktop days and are still considered a great format for advertising. They are least invasive and can show some features of the product in a snapshot. Although a bit restrictive with space, they have a low CPI (Cost per Install) and your ad can tend to suffer from “banner blindness” which means that it can go completely unnoticed.

2. Interstitial Ads

Interstitials ads are full-screen images or videos that cover the entire mobile screen. They allow for more context in your message by making the ad more creatively compelling and descriptive as compared to other formats of static ads. Sometimes, they can be invasive in the user’s space or task and can have several unintentional clicks resulting in no conversion.

3. Expandable Ads

Derived as a product of banner ads and interstitial ads, expandable ads solve the problem of banner blindness as they seldom go unnoticed. They are also less invasive than interstitial ads as they provide the option of giving more information only when clicked on.

4. Native Ads

The chameleon of mobile ads, native ads seamlessly blend into the ambience of the page that they are being displayed on by mimicking the border and graphics of the page. Although more expensive, they often come with a big payoff in terms of downloads.

5. Video Ads

A picture is worth a thousand words but a video is worth much more! Instead of simple, static imagery, a video ad can convey the message faster and in a more appealing manner. Videos are a little more pricey to produce and place so ensure that you do it right!

6. Playable Ads

Commonly seen in the mobile gaming universe, playable ads allow for the user to have a demo within the ad itself before actually downloading the game. Quite often, they result in a call-to-action as they leave the user at a cliff-hanger. They can also help reduce uninstall rates as they help the user to anticipate what they can expect further in the game.

UA can be achieved in several ways and really, there is no one way to do it right. You need a mix of strategies that align with your brand image. Consistency is key; Be consistent with your actions and make sure that your actions are coherent with your target audience! Here are a few strategies that have helped businesses in the past.

1. Create Co-Branded Content

In a world of competitors, be a collaborator! Think about doubling your reach by creating content in alliance with a company that is NOT a direct competitor but a player in the complimentary goods market that targets a similar audience. A true example of digital co-branding genius is Starbucks with Spotify in 2015. Starbucks, known for its carefully curated music, that promotes indie artists made its playlists available on Spotify. Consider how the targets of both the companies are similar but they are in no way direct competition to each other. This digital campaign set the bar for several other such collaborations among popular brands.

2. Create an affiliate program

People love incentives! It simply motivates them to work harder. Think of rewarding the people that actually promote your brand. Amazon does this a lot and it has worked for them.

This can be done in two ways, either a micro influencer that promotes your product gets a special discount code and you pay them a cut when a sale is made or you collaborate with a company and every time you get a new user through that company, you pay them a cut. It’s simple and a sure win-win!

3. Have a strong website and email engagement

Have you considered going back to your abandoned shopping cart when Amazon sends you an email reminding you about the same? Use the data you receive from your customers wisely. Consider sending personalized emails to grab the attention of your existing customers. Promote your content, website and product using the right tools at the right time!

It is a great idea to sit down with the entire team and have a UA Strategy brainstorm session before the launch of your product and pool your ideas. Remember, User Acquisition is not easy and requires a lot of time and effort. The key is to have a plan and execute it well. Think out of the box, the world is your oyster! If you have any success stories of UA, feel free to share them in the comments and help the people that are starting out their UA journey.

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