In the mobile app space today, there are many different ways to succeed.
Damian Gray, Director of Customer Success at Apptopia, uses a data-led approach to help those he works with not just survive but thrive in this arena. We recently sat down with him to learn more about his job, the mobile app industry and the ongoing evolution of mobile app measurement and tracking.
Who are you and what do you do at Apptopia?
My name is Damian Gray, Director of Customer Success at
Apptopia. At a high-level, my team works with our customers to provide them with the app market insights they need to be successful. That could mean helping sales teams determine which app developers could be the best partners for their product, or it could be helping developers understand how other developers are executing, so they can benchmark and/or innovate. My team also helps investors make educated decisions leveraging mobile signals. I work with hundreds of different mobile-only and mobile-focused brands as well as public and private investors. Every day offers a new challenge for Apptopia customer success managers!
Most companies understand what their performance is and how it's trending. What can they unlock through understanding their competitors and their market?
Speaking specifically to apps, there are a ton of different tracking and measurement platforms available to companies so they can track and monitor their own internal data and progress towards their mobile KPIs; but understanding how their app performance or technology stack compares to similar apps is extremely difficult without a platform like ours. Are your KPIs reasonable? Too aggressive? Not aggressive enough? What is your competitor’s landing page keyword strategy? What changes are they making? How are they positioned compared to you? Did a recently added feature prove successful for them? Without signals for when an app updated, what was included in that update and how their downloads, rank and engagement changed at the time of that update, it would be very hard to say.
Developers could wait for the next conference or event to hear the stories from others but smart developers know that having the signals today is critical to getting experiments scoped and into product pipelines. Marketers need to see new creatives being run by similar apps in order to get design requests in to their designers. If a competitor has launched a new UA campaign and a developer wants to compete, budget will need to be carved-out. Apptopia’s data and tools unlock real-time signals that help developers react to what’s happening in the market faster/in real-time.
Is too much tracking and measuring a bad thing? Can we get lost?
It could be... if the amount of information from tracking and measurement is so great it becomes un-actionable and leads companies down a purely academic path, I would argue it’s likely too much. Larger companies have a greater need to be very, very right due to the revenue risk of being wrong but they often have the staff and systems to manage a lot of data. Smaller companies need to move fast and don’t have the heads for endless hypothesis testing. So, what’s enough for some may not be enough for others.
Drawing the lines between not enough, just enough and too much is challenging. Regardless of size however, if a developer is looking only at internal data and KPIs, that developer does not have enough data in their life. In my eight years in mobile, change has been the only constant in our space, so even if a developer has a very talented team, knowledge and expertise will grow stale without keeping up with what’s going on in the ever-changing market around them.
What signals help to inform a publisher's product roadmap and/or monetization decisions
There are virtually endless signals to inform a product roadmap. Internal performance metrics like funnel efficiency, conversion rates, sessions/day, page views, impression caps (if advertising) and many, many others require constant work to optimize. Signals from the app stores can provide great clues into what is being tried by others in the market and what seems to be working for them. For example, if a similar app or competitor’s rank and user growth moves/reacts in a meaningful way on the back of a new release which includes a new feature, try it out!
Likewise, if a new monetization strategy results in significant top grossing rank movement, maybe that could work for you too! Don’t be fooled by download and rank movement alone though; make sure you look for advertising signals that could indicate the sudden movement was just due to a marketing burst. Marketing will often accompany a big release but if DAU and retention don’t hold up for at least a while beyond that update, it’s likely the volume jump was just from the advertising. High volume of and/or positive reviews are another strong signal of the success of a recent change. Take a look at what users are saying to see if the developer made the right call. “I hate the new update, it’s nothing but ads!” - you may not want to follow that strategy…
You work with mobile teams from large brands every day. What trends are you seeing unfold? What are they trying to do? Where are they trying to go?
Cross-device tracking and measurement, though not a new challenge, is still a very real one for brands. I have daily conversations with customers trying to understand how the pieces fit and how native fits in the bigger picture. Trying to connect all the dots between in-store, mobile web, desktop and native mobile has still not been solved by many and continues to be a big challenge and focus. Though some have made meaningful progress on this front, many are still trying to figure it out. From all I can see, only a shift in how teams work together and a re-alignment of KPIs can create a resolution. The good news is, cross-department collaboration is better than it used to be.
Things have changed a lot since I started in mobile but even as of very recently I have met with orgs who are still siloed between native mobile and other teams. The Native mobile team has under its roof, separate from the rest of digital, all of the functions like marketing, product and engineering. They are still fighting for resources and budget and even competing internally to hit KPIs.
More and more however, I am meeting with companies who bring several departments to the table who view native as just one of several customer interfaces that fit within the bigger picture and whose KPIs stretch across all devices and platforms. I am also seeing more and more fluency in native mobile vernacular from folks who either are not focused on native or for who native is only a small part of their day to day - which is exciting to see! So, though it is still a hill to climb, the organizational adjustments needed to find a cross-device tracking and measurement solution are definitely happening.
You help a lot of advertisers understand which creatives work and which don't. Do you have any best practices for creatives that you've noticed? How can advertisers optimize toward acquiring users that won't churn quickly after installing?
I would say, don’t be afraid to kill a creative quickly - experimentation and rotation are key. Apptopia has seen a lot of creatives on the platform and have worked closely with partners to share learnings of what works and what doesn’t:
Conveying a clear use case and show your app being used for the purpose.
Having a clear call to action
Making sure audio is not a necessary component (have subtitles if there is spoken word).
Attract the eye - bright colors, fast paced visuals, calming visuals, etc.
Staying up on advertising trends - New ideas are being tried all the time. Try them!
What you should stay away from
Waiting too long to display your hook or core use case - attention spans are short.
Confusing player action - when showing actual gameplay, make it clear what moves are being made by the player or finger(s) of the player.
Humans and/or visuals not involving actual gameplay or showing the inside of your app
Overproduced/expensive content. It doesn’t necessarily help your goal.
How should monetization teams be thinking of engagement?
When I speak to developers who are evaluating what their monetization strategy should be, I encourage them to consider what their app’s usage profile/engagement will be as that is critical for success. For example, a weather app often has a high DAU as a percentage of MAU but few sessions per day and a low average session length. This is because most users pop in once a day for <1 minute to see the weather, close the app and go about their day. It’s no wonder so many invest into content partners to try and increase the sessions and session lengths of their users so they can increase their total engagement and ad revenue.
For app’s with smaller user bases, which may be targeting more niche audiences, average revenue per user (ARPU) has to be higher in order for the app to have a chance at generating enough revenue to survive. In-app purchases (IAP), potentially subscriptions, are going to be the key. An IAP strategy requires a very different product mindset, UX mechanics and growth optimization strategy, but if you know this is your end goal post-launch, you can plan accordingly.
Obviously, a large user base with a high ARPU is the dream but doing that puts developers in a VERY select group at the top of the charts. For the rest of us, we have to optimize to make things work. That said, the app’s engagement will be your guide. If you aren’t sure HOW your app’s engagement will look post-launch, study its components and compare them to other apps in the store and/or category, that will help you get a good sense for what you may be able to expect.