Mobile in 2023: What to Do and What Not to Do

In the past, getting users for your app was pretty straight-forward: Convince them to download the app, and then they would keep coming back because it’s right there on the home screen. In the first age of mobile, it was sufficient to get an install.

But in today’s ever-changing and rapidly growing mobile ecosystem, there are many roadblocks preventing you from harnessing the value of your app:

  • Mobile measurement is increasingly complex and fragmented.
  • The deprecation of IDFA and SKAdNetwork requires vigilant attention and adjustments.
  • Privacy Sandbox will limit sharing of user data with third parties and the ability to operate without cross-app identifiers, including advertising IDs.
  • Privacy is king, and users expect theirs to be protected.
  • Frustrating mobile experiences persist due to platform challenges, and users have no patience for broken experiences.
  • Walled gardens continue to make it difficult to acquire new users, engage current users, and accelerate app growth.
  • Economic uncertainty is leading to changing marketing budgets and strategies.

No matter which roadblock worries you the most, the effect is the same: it’s more important than ever to make sure you’re finding users who will do something in your app after they download it. An install is no longer enough. Truly successful apps develop deeper relationships with their customers.

So, what should you be doing and not doing to take on these roadblocks and create meaningful relationships with your customers?

What not to do
Don’t give up on advertising.

Ads still have a very important role to play. They’re a reliable and predictable option, and have the benefit of being quickly scalable in a way that many other techniques are not.

You shouldn’t give up on them, but you should reassess how you use them. For example, consider the user acquisition funnel. In the past, lower-funnel investments like app install ads were over-credited simply due to the way last-touch attribution works. So, upper-funnel paid investments, such as brand awareness campaigns and retention campaigns, were probably getting less credit than they really deserved. With lower-funnel user acquisition measurement and targeting becoming degraded, it might be a good time to reassess upper-funnel opportunities.

Don’t get distracted by short-term workarounds.

Investing in short-term workarounds — like fingerprinting — is ultimately a waste of time and effort. The sooner you commit to the new privacy-centric world, the sooner you can stop pouring resources down the drain on temporary fixes. The best long-term strategy for brands and advertisers is to embrace the new world of measurement.

Don’t ignore the rules and regulations.

When it comes to platforms and regulation, it’s not worth messing around. For instance, Apple has made it clear it intends to crack down on “tracking” of any kind, including fingerprinting. For individual advertisers, this means engaging in workarounds can be risky. If you’re caught violating Apple’s policies, your app can get kicked out of the App Store until you fix it. Although this isn’t being really enforced at the moment, that doesn’t mean it won’t be. And it doesn’t mean you’re safe from the public relations fallout if your customers discover you doing something they find sketchy.

Don’t cede control to companies whose incentives are not aligned with yours.

Be careful about ceding control to companies whose incentives don’t match yours because walled gardens can change their rules at any time. For example, “content fortresses” occur when big platforms move part of your user lifecycle within their own platform. So instead of you running an ad on Facebook for customers to download your app and purchase something inside it, you run an ad for customers to purchase something of yours via the Facebook app.

The sleight-of-hand is impressive: you’re still paying for ‘your’ users, but now you don’t even get the value of actually acquiring a new app user.

Don’t be disingenuous to your users.

Focus on bringing real value to your users, not tricks and manipulations. There are ways you can be aggressive and boost short-term metrics, but those will usually come back to haunt you later.

What to do

So with those things ruled out, where should you focus instead?

Go for ‘investable growth.’

Investable growth means investing in marketing activities that compound over time and that don’t have a marginal cost. For example, if you invest in SEO content and use that to drive new users, you can harvest those dividends for years at a fraction of the cost of ads. Where, for an ad, you pay for each conversion up front.

Build growth loops into your product.

A great way to maximize on investable growth is by building it directly into your product. Whether it’s something like content sharing or referral programs, viral loops are a powerful thing.

Upgrade your existing customers.

Look for ways to ‘upgrade’ your existing customers to better places. Whether that’s taking a desktop user to mobile, or a mobile web user to app, or a single-platform user to multiple platforms, move them where your data shows they’re more valuable to your business.

Fix the leaky bucket.

This one is pretty straightforward: if you’re spending time and money to pour users into the top of your acquisition funnel but have a giant hole in the bottom because your marketing emails don’t deep link, that’s probably a good place to start.

Focus on creative optimization.

Assuming you’re not planning to quit paid promotion (which you shouldn’t), improving your ad creative should be a focus. Now that the effectiveness of audience targeting is impaired, a lot of brands are able to close at least some of the gap with better ad creatives. This is an area where we’ll likely see a lot of platform innovation around generative AI in the next few years, since that has the potential to enable infinite creative customizations at scale.

Embrace the new measurement reality.

For better or worse, user-level identifiers like IDFAs and third-party cookies are on the way out. Aggregated data is the new measurement reality. It’s a different way of working, and it requires building new muscles. We’ll start to see more separation between “in-channel measurement” techniques through frameworks like SKAdNetwork and “holistic measurement” solutions. These are great for tactical uses within a single marketing channel, like “how much do I pay my ad network this week?” But, they don’t help marketers understand how their relative investments in different channels are performing.

New innovation around holistic measurement solutions is what will bring back the cross-channel view that marketers need in order to make strategic decisions. An early contender here that has been getting a lot of attention is next-generation media mix modeling (MMM), but it’s still early days.

Mobile in 2023 can seem a bit daunting, but with a few tweaks to your marketing strategies, growth is still on the horizon. The world of mobile is a world of possibility, so let’s get started!

Learn more about how Branch can help you navigate the new age of mobile.