3 core specialties for a mobile user acquisition team


The persistent — and most likely permanent, or at least assured for the medium term — increase in mobile advertising prices creates an unavoidable obligation within the mobile industry for companies to achieve competitive advantages through the expertise of their user acquisition teams. Given the competitive nature of the app economy and the fundamentally challenging character of app discovery, product differentiation and superiority aren’t sufficient for an app to achieve commercial success. Efficient distribution at scale is a necessity, and that’s difficult to achieve without a capable in-house user acquisition team.

But mobile user acquisition isn’t a mature field, and because the number of people that have managed campaigns at the scale of a Top 50 or so grossing app is small, it can be difficult for developers that are assembling teams to understand which skills contribute to a well-rounded, integrated mobile marketing team.

Ultimately, self-sufficiency as regards mobile marketing — that is, the ability to manage all aspects of the marketing for an app without engaging outside agencies — seems to require an ensemble of three fairly broad competencies: 1) data management and modeling, 2) campaign management, and 3) the exploration of new channels, tools, and services.

Data management and modeling

Data management and modeling can be thought of as the front- and back-end activities required to make marketing decisions based on past user performance. The tools used to influence those decisions may be proprietary or built by third parties, but generally speaking an app developer must have at least established the business logic that its analytics tools report on (eg. the minimum viable metrics).

In other words, this basket of skills encompasses not just the development and maintenance of the analytics stack but also the definition and calculation of marketing-oriented metrics like LTV so that profit and return on investment can be projected by cohorts. As such, this area of expertise spans both the technical and analytical: it requires instrumentation within the app, the storage and manipulation of data transmitted by the app, and the transformation of raw data into insight that can be used to make marketing decisions.

Ultimately, the output of people working within this skill group is sets of parameters under which marketing campaigns can be run: target bid prices for specific traffic channels / demographic groups / mobile devices, projections of campaign ROI, guidance around campaign timing (eg. day parts, weekly cyclicality), and other inputs into campaign profitability. The people in this skill group own the data that informs the specifications under which campaigns are managed.

Campaign management

Campaign management is the operational component of mobile marketing — it’s the most visible part of the process but also the one most prone to being replaced by automation via new tools. This expertise bloc spans two general competencies: the day-to-day management and optimization of campaigns, which requires continuous testing and monitoring, and the actual creation of campaign creatives.

The first group — of people who create and manage campaigns — is responsible for maintaining budget efficiency through the continuous optimization of existing campaigns and the creation of new ones against updated insight from data tools. The day-to-day activities of the people within this skill group aren’t materially different from those of people involved in desktop PPC / paid search campaigns: experimentation (A/B tests on different creative sets, etc.), optimization (changing targeting parameters and updating campaign bids), and reporting. And while, conceptually, platform chart visibility and CPI pricing (among other things) represent fundamental distinctions between mobile and desktop marketing, because the practicalities of operating campaigns across the two are so similar, it’s generally easier to hire people into this group that can be productive very quickly than into the data management group.

The creation of campaign content — ad imagery and copy but also things like press releases and kits, websites, etc. — requires a diverse set of creative proficiencies, from art to copywriting to branding. The people in this group are responsible for potential users’ perception of the app and therefore control the aesthetics and general tone of all advertising materials. This group also has analogs in desktop marketing and is thus easier to field experienced candidates in.

Exploration of new channels, tools, and services

Perhaps the most overlooked skill in mobile marketing is the ability to find new and innovative ways to spend marketing budgets more efficiently. Activities utilizing this suite of skills involve reaching out to stealth / very early stage start-ups in the ad tech space to be the first to try new products and experimenting with new ad formats and channels.

The ‘exploration’ space is a combination of business development prowess and general inquisitiveness, and the objective of people within this group is to create competitive advantage by giving the app developer pioneering access to a technology or advertising medium that will reduce its marketing costs.

Ultimately, the best way to gain competitive advantage in the mobile marketing space is to either run campaigns more economically than other developers through the use of superior tools or to find traffic in greenfield media that isn’t being targeted by the largest developers. While, by definition, no single discovery or revelation by the people in this group is sustainable for the long term, the group’s activities can be sustainable: ingenuity and perseverance in this space can creative a long-lived commercial edge for a developer that is willing to perpetually be the first mover into new technologies.

For developers seeking the ability to scale their apps’ user bases without surrendering precious margin to agencies, a team encapsulating the three skill areas outlined above should be sufficient to operate campaigns. In some cases, certain individuals may span more than one skill group: for instance, campaign managers that maintain their own models, or analysts that also diligently follow the mobile analytics space. But to the extent that a complete mobile marketing team is composed of character prototypes, they are the Analyst, the Campaign Manager, and the Explorer.