The Fundamentals of Mobile Growth Marketing

In an increasingly fragmented mobile ecosystem where winding user journeys, walled gardens, and data silos are the norm, achieving app growth to increase user LTV, revenue, and ROI can seem like a daunting task. 

However, there are still tactics out there that will help crush your app growth KPIs.

Based off of Stanford’s BUS 257 course taught in Fall 2020 by Branch co-founder and Head of Marketing Mada Seghete and Graphite CEO Ethan Smith, we’ve rounded up some tips to help you move beyond traditional marketing and become a growth expert. 

But first, let’s define what growth marketing really is:

What is Growth Marketing?

When you think about growth marketing, think cross-functional and big picture, rather than only focusing on one aspect of the marketing funnel. We define growth marketing as an expanded, comprehensive approach that encompasses the entire customer funnel—from acquisition to engagement and retention—and relies on analytical prowess, including sophisticated data mining, to steer product and marketing strategies and programs. In short, it’s growing the unique user base that provides the most value for your business leveraging a full-funnel approach. 

Who Owns Growth?

Is it just Marketing? Product? In 2021, it’s both, neither and all. Growth marketing doesn’t fit into a single team, nor is it its own standalone function. “Growth” is a goal owned by marketing, engineering, and product.

Let’s dive in to growth marketing tactics, frameworks and strategies to grow your app, from organic to paid marketing, virality, activation and retention:

Organic App Growth

Although much has been written about the impact of COVID on the mobile industry, less has focused on a key split in how apps that saw a “pandemic bump” experienced growth. Specifically, in comparison to paid channels, organic app growth is up: 

The best thing about this development from a LTV-focused mobile growth perspective? Owned channels are statistically more effective at driving value to your business. Branch research has found that organic channels (such as email, smart banners, and referrals) are up to 4.4X more effective at driving purchases than paid acquisition channels. 

Let’s dive into one of the most effective ways to make owned and organic channels drivers of app growth: 

Web to App

Your existing mobile website is an often-overlooked resource to turn existing mobile visitors into loyal app users. In fact, doing so is 82% less expensive than running app install ads. 

Optimize your web-to-app strategy with these best practices: 


As with any user interaction personalization matters – to the tune of making your banners 5x more effective. You can personalize your smart banners at scale in a variety of ways, based on many any number of attributes that signal specific user intent. 

A basic strategy might include:

  •  Presenting an interstitial to a high-frequency visitor already familiar with your brand, while slowly building the relationship with a first-time user by presenting a smaller, less assertive floating button. 
  • Encouraging a user who has just converted on web (by making a purchase, starting a subscription, creating a profile or anything else that is meaningful for your team) to take the next step in their “relationship” with your brand with a half or full page banner that connects their action to a tangible benefit of your app. 

As you build out your strategy, treat web-to-app optimization with the same degree of rigor that you approach paid ads iteration with advanced plays, like creating banners that consider the context of where your user is coming from. Users who find your website through SEO are in a different mind frame than those who come because a friend sent them a link. Honoring those differences through different calls to action – targeted by referring URL – has a dramatic impact on view-to-click rates and starts your “app relationship” off right with your users feeling like you understand them.

Sephora presents different banners to users in different mind frames. A simple banner is used to call users browsing the mobile website to the app, while a full-page interstitial is presented to a user who already has a relationship with Sephora via email. 

Paid & Affiliate Marketing

Paid media reliably broadens a brand’s reach at every stage in the funnel, from awareness to conversion to winback. Place a dynamic bid and you can reach a uniquely tailored audience at exactly the right time. This is especially critical with channels where the accessible audience for a  brand’s organic outreach can get lost in the noise or lack the requisite scale to reliably achieve holistic growth goals. Sophisticated networks provide both scale and granular targeting that can introduce new, highly tailored customers to a brand on a regular basis, specifically by creating a paradigm that favors paid placements above “earned” views. 

We think of paid advertising as three separate buckets:

Audience targeting based advertising 

With this type of advertising, you’re targeting an audience with an assumed interest in your brand. Display, social media ads, billboard and print ads are all examples of targeted audience advertising, as they can be put in places where the target audience frequents. 

Intent-based advertising/contextual targeting

With this type of advertising, you are basing your bets on someone’s stated rather than an assumed interest in something. Search ads are a great example  — a user who already performs a search has high intent and has stated interest. Another example: you could target users who are on ESPN with sports-related ads. Users go to these categorized sites or apps which tells advertisers what they are already inherently interested in. 

Trust-based Advertising

Trust-based advertising encapsulates affiliate marketing and influencer marketing, both of which are based on an assumed interest due to trust in others. While this falls under paid advertising, it has a very different dynamic. These methods can be used alongside virality practices when you have a product that can inspire others — but works best when the referrals and influencers are authentic. Paying an influencer who is a good fit for your brand and has a similar target audience to yours goes a long way, rather than choosing an influencer who might have a large following but doesn’t match your brand. 

Affiliate Marketing

Business looking to improve their advertising impact and margins on mobile should make app-focused affiliate marketing campaigns a core tenet of their strategy because of these key reasons: 

  1. They’re low risk
    Since the payouts are usually on the basis of actual transactions that are driven by each affiliate/partner, the risk for marketers is low and can be tied to a tangible return/ROI.
  1. They come with a high degree of tailored relevance and influence
    With affiliate marketing, marketers have a way to reach affiliates/partners whose audience is relevant for the advertiser’s business. This effectively removes the need to independently target demographic and behavioral attributes while still ensuring a higher average propensity to convert.
  1. They’re increasingly accessible
    Finding good quality affiliates/partners has become far easier, thanks to affiliate platforms/partner networks like Awin, CJ Affiliate, Impact, Partnerize, Rakuten, TUNE etc.
  1. Innovative Technology 

Platforms that support affiliate marketing have made huge strides. Building and rolling out affiliate programs, making creatives and links available, tracking and attributing conversions and paying out affiliates based on their performance have all been automated to a large extent.


Influencer Marketing

An influencer is defined as a person with a following and audience who promotes your brand in order for you to achieve your business goals. Influencers can help you drive awareness, engagement, product sales, app installs, or another metric important to your team by advertising on your behalf to reach a wider audience. 

Keep these tips in mind when choosing an influencer:

  • Engagement level – how often does the influencer engage with their audience?
  • Relevancy and Authenticity – does the influencer post about what they believe in? Does their personal brand match with your brand?
  • Demographics – is their audience the same as your target audience?
  • Cost – What is the rate for partnering with the influencer?
  • Sponsored posts – Has the influencer worked with brands before? What did it look like and what were the results?
  • Professionalism – Is working with this influencer easy? What does the collaboration process look like?

An example of an influencer campaign from Boohoo. Users are deep linked from the Instagram story right into the relevant product page in the Boohoo app for a seamless experience.


Virality may be the gold standard of mobile growth, but it’s a unique challenge on a platform where attention spans are minute, choice is rampant, and walled gardens define the user experience. Despite the odds, there are clear best practices to approach and measure your virality goals. 

There are three factors to virality that differentiate a successful virality campaign:

  • Incentive
  • Ego
  • Emotion

Invest in your users by giving them a tangible incentive to introduce a brand they love to people who will love it too. Your incentive can be wholly tailored to your brand, such as exclusive swag, a discount your users can’t ignore, points or level-up rewards system. Bonus points if it encourages both your original user and the new one to increase their connection to your brand. 

Food delivery apps Seamless and Drizly offer $5 to both a referrer and referee to entice them to sign up and place an order.


Most people like it when they look good, smart, and better than their peers. When offering users a way to share your app with others, highlight a feature that makes them look good. Gamification is a great way to achieve this. From encouraging video challenges, post challenges, or any sort of contest users can take part in, users can spread awareness about your app while sharing content of their own that makes them look good. Walmart capitalized on the challenge trend on TikTok with their #DealDropDance campaign, telling users to upload a video of themselves dancing and using the #DealDropDance hashtag to spread awareness of Walmart’s Black Friday deals. The campaign was a huge success in driving awareness and engagement, with over 3.6 billion views on videos that used the hashtag. 


Courtesy of Mediakix



People are emotion-driven, and these emotions can be influenced to get users to share your app, content, or product. Different emotions drive different actions, however. In general, positive emotions like joy make people share (the happier the post, the more likely it is to be shared), while negative emotions (anger, fear) drive more actual clicks on the content. High-arousal emotions where you’re more excited, such as anger, have been proven to drive more virality than low-arousal emotions where you’re more subdued, like sadness. 

The 7 High-Arousal Emotions from “Contagious” by Jonah Berger

  • Awe – If users feel a sense of wonder or admiration, they’re likely to share or to comment to spur discussion.
  • Anger – Posts that are likely to make users angry make them more likely to share, and also are prone to more comments (ever see a political post on your newsfeed? It’s no wonder they’re filled with commentary).
  • Anxiety – If content triggers a specific anxiety, worry, or pain point, it’s likely to be circulated and commented on. 
  • Fear – Similar to anxiety, fear is characterized as an emotion where you feel little control. Users want to regain that control by reading or sharing something that soothes their fear.
  • Joy – Happy content makes people feel good — encouraging them to share it with the world.
  • Lust – Making users want something through use of creative copy and imagery can get them to click. 
  • Surprise – Showing something unexpected drives curiosity, leading to views and clicks.

Testing out various copy and creatives that drive different emotions can help hit your growth KPIs. By tweaking your copy and creative to stir up various emotions in your user base, you can push them towards the action you want them to take, whether that be to share, click, or comment in order to build your app or product’s virality. 

Activation and Retention

Activation is the rate at which new installs become active users. Think of it as the space between a user not knowing why they’re in your app and becoming a loyal user. Any user can download your app, but their value to your business is negligible until they identify and align with its value, and perform actions that contribute to your business’ goals.

Users “activate” when they complete actions in your app engagement funnel that lead to your north star metric, as shown in the figure below. Some brands have one particular action that defines activation, while others have a series of actions but assign certain actions more value. Consider how your engagement funnel KPIs tie into measurable team objectives across the organization, as well as how external partners, including ad networks, can help you best optimize against them. 


Engagement and retention are like two peas in a pod; you can’t expect to retain users if they don’t see enough value to engage. On the flip side, high retention rates allow for more chances for the user to engage with you, and a user with higher engagement is likely to stick around rather than a lower-engaged user. 

Engage and Retain with Habits

Create habits in your users that lead them to continuously re-engage. To form a habit, you need the following ingredients:

  • A cue
  • A reward

This often takes the form of push notifications, which if done right, can be a powerful way to create a habit of continuously engaging with your app/product. Here is one example of forming habits with cues and rewards in pushes: 

Fitbit presents a cue to users encouraging them to hit their daily goal, and lets them know when they do. Users feel a sense of urgency at the cue, then a sense of accomplishment after the reward. By putting your brand and message in front of your users during a moment of achievement, over time users are likely to associate positive feelings with your brand. 

Engage and Retain with Content

Creating new and engaging content is a cost-effective method to delight current users. Your content could range from educational, actionable articles to help users with a specific issue, lighthearted content to keep them entertained, and can take many forms from blog posts to polls to social media posts. If you can, make content that users can easily respond to, like interactive Instagram stories, polls, video challenges, and competitions. This kind of low-effort content takes only minutes or seconds for users to engage with, making it an easy win for both you and the user. 

Under Armour encourages customers to practice healthy habits while staying home. To do this, they send multiple newsletter emails throughout the week such as “The Daily 3” to increase user engagement. Users who click the CTA are brought into the Under Armour app to read the newsletter. 

Content that Helps

Creating content targeted to solve a specific pain point engages users and brings them value. This could be through blogs, a video series, podcast, ebook, or mini online course. Content could range from how-to guides to walk a user through a problem, to industry guides, and more. To get to know user pain points to create content from, dig through reviews on the App/Play store, ask users for feedback on the app, and conduct user research. Although focusing on pain points that help users through the pandemic is a big one, also focus on those you can fix that will give customers better experiences once the pandemic lifts. 

Nerdwallet consistently creates articles on its mobile website and in the app about all things personal finance not only to acquire new users, but to educate them and bring them value. Since the pandemic, they’ve made an effort to include actionable COVID-focused content to help users navigate their finances in this time, responding to the pain point of financial uncertainty.  


Growth strategy is as much about ongoing iteration as it is about aggregate outcome. The most valuable step your growth stakeholders can take is to create a cohesive plan for the strategies and tactics you’ll pursue over the next 12 months. Whether you decide to focus on one or two new strategies or implement several across the board, these growth tips will increase your app’s user base and better retain these users throughout the mobile growth funnel. As you go forward in your journey, remember to integrate growth as a key need and stakeholder in every product and marketing initiative, rather than a separate stage of the funnel.

Ready to transform your mobile growth strategy? Download the full “Fundamentals of Mobile Growth Marketing” whitepaper to learn how to measure the impact of the growth marketing strategies outlined above, dive even deeper into growth marketing tactics, and learn even more tips and strategies.