• Advertising

How to Think About Mobile App Marketing Attribution

Team InMobi
5 min read
Posted on March 26, 2019

When it comes to measuring mobile app marketing attribution (i.e. marketing campaigns with ads within mobile apps), it’s tempting to just port over web attribution models from Google Analytics or solely focus on single actions like when users click to download the app.

But, these kinds of outdated user acquisition methodologies no longer cut it. For mobile marketers and app advertisers today, reaching, acquiring and retaining customers through mobile devices requires much more careful thought and planning.

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Problems with Legacy Approaches to Mobile App Marketing

Let’s dive deeper into the current state of user acquisition within in-app advertising and marketing. In the past, these campaigns were solely focused on getting people to install the app in question. Ads for the app would include a deep link connecting to the app stores, with pixel tags often used to track the final install.

And who gets credit for this single action? Typically, the ad network, exchange or other ad tech provider responsible for showing the ad that was finally clicked and acted upon would get ultimate credit for the action. Less frequently, the actors responsible for showing the very first ad to someone who later installed the app would get either primary or secondary credit. Kochava and AppsFlyer log these as “assists.”

So what’s wrong with this picture? Why is this “Last Click” attribution model problematic?

For starters, it doesn’t accurately reflect the way people are truly influenced to take action. It’s highly unlikely for someone to just see one ad and then be totally convinced. More likely, they need to see multiple messages from many different vantage points before being compelled to take action.

For instance, let’s say a pharmacy wanted you to download their app. To first make you aware of the offering, they may run ads targeted to you and people like you. But they’d also just as likely run ads elsewhere, including at their storefronts. And, before you ultimately elected to download the app, you’d likely search out reviews from others to see what peers had to say about it. All of these inputs influence the final action, but legacy attribution models don’t take all this into account.

These last-click attribution models also fail to account for someone’s true lifetime value. Just because someone downloads your app doesn’t mean they’ll actually use it. It’s easy to get someone to install, but getting them to continually use it on a regular basis is another matter entirely. Why bother paying just for someone to use your app once and then forget about it?

And, perhaps most critically, last-click attribution is rife with fraud and shady practices. Nefarious players will readily employ tactics like ad stacking and click cramming, in an effort to unduly become the final click. It also leads to the dreaded click sniping, in which fraudsters will attempt to steal credit for the final click right underneath the legitimate players. This means that under these legacy attribution models, mobile marketers can easily end up paying the wrong people.

“Last click attribution as the sole measuring stick for digital performance advertising should go away within the next few years,” says Anne Frisbie, Senior Vice President of Global Programmatic and North America at InMobi. “Our belief is that this a very important trend that we hope plays out as quickly as possible. Last-click attribution was great when search marketing first launched at the turn of the century, i.e. compared to no measurement at all. But now, nearly 20 years later, it is clear that last-click attribution is not sophisticated enough and that it misattributes value back to media partners since many organic activities that marketers shouldn’t have to pay for are captured, i.e. they aren’t truly incremental.”

What Should Mobile App Attribution Look Like?

If the current approaches are fraught with issues, then what should mobile app attribution look like? To help answer this question, mobile marketers should consider implementing these three tactics and strategies:

  1. Adopt a multi-touch attribution model. By distributing credit for an action among all the involved parties, either equally or through a system in which some actions and efforts are weighted above others, marketers can be sure that everyone who played a role in driving a desired action gets credit for their efforts. It also largely eliminates fraud by removing the bulk of the incentives driving ad stacking, click cramming, click spoofing, click sniping, etc.
  2. Pay only for metrics that actually impact your business. Be sure to just collect and track attribution data that directly correlates with revenue goals and business initiatives. For example, an e-commerce platform may want to see repeat app purchases from their users, and that would show they have become regular customers.
  3. Prioritize transparency. Mobile marketers should have complete oversight over every element of their campaigns, and should be able to get data in real time from all of their partners.

How to Choose the Right Attribution Solution

Determining what mobile app marketing attribution should like is one thing. Making it happen is another thing entirely. But, by prioritizing solutions, platforms and marketing strategies that support multi-touch and cross-device attribution, measure campaigns with business-centric metrics utilizing fully-transparent tools, mobile marketers can get the most value possible out of their app-centric efforts.

Interested in learning more? Check out these other blog posts for further insights:

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