Strategy must precede media buying in mobile advertising

One mystifyingly common mis-step that mobile developers make in attempting to grow a user base is spending meaningful money on paid marketing — especially through an agency or with a freelancer — before building a genuine growth strategy. “Growth strategy” may seem nebulous and vague, but it’s really not; it’s the set of data that guides the marketing team in defining their activities now, their standards for success now, and what success dictates they do next. In other words, it’s the answer to the questions: 1) what can and should we do now to grow our user base given what we know? and 2) if what we know now is proven true, what should we do next?

Constructing this strategy requires gathering inputs from many different sentry stations across the app and the commercial apparatus that has been erected around it:

  1. Monetization. What’s the app’s business model and how does it monetize?
  2. Target Demographic. How can the target demographic be reached? What’s the largest channel that can be used to reach this demographic that must work for the app to be considered successful? Do we have an estimate of some time-based lifetime value for the core, target demographic?
  3.  Ad Creative Resonance. What kind of messaging resonates for the demographic mentioned above? What ad format best carries that messaging?
  4. Commercial Priorities. How quickly should the app be scaled? How much money is available to scale the app without marketing money being recouped? Should a percentage of revenues each month be recycled into marketing for the next month?

The two broad questions posed about now and later can only be answered if the fundamental, elemental questions above are answered first. Answering these questions — which span the marketing funnel as well as the in-app behavioral lives of users — is what is entailed in devising a growth strategy. And without addressing these questions and constructing a strategy, a developer is only in a position to acquire users for the purposes of testing; they are not ready to spend real, substantial money on paid marketing in pursuit of “growth”.

Yet many do, partly because answering the questions above is difficult and time-consuming and partly because, after the long and often grueling process of building an app, the developer wants to see many people using it. But spinning up marketing campaigns with the ambitions of growing a user base (as opposed to gathering data for the purposes of honing the business model) before the developer is ready to curate that data by onboarding the right users and interpret that data with thoughtful reporting can be disastrous. Absent a cogent business model that explains exactly how scaled marketing metrics should be read — and which would have dictated which users to acquire in the first place, which obviously has an impact on marketing performance — the company’s management, employees, and investors can easily become discouraged and disillusioned with metrics that aren’t immediately obvious as blowout results.

Freelance marketing consultancies and agencies — to say nothing of in-house performance marketing teams — require very specific guidance and goals to work against. A developer shouldn’t expect that outsourcing its growth strategy to a media buying freelancer will produce acceptable results; it almost never does. Thorough testing and data-gathering in support of the development of a strategy should always precede media buying on mobile.