Mobile App Marketing: How To Hook and Retain Customers in a Crowded Space

12 min read

Learn actionable tips on how to make your mobile app standout and be successful in a crowded marketplace.

Frank L.
Frank L.
Published August 11, 2023

In 2023, "There's an app for that!" is more than a catchphrase — it's the truth. With more than 5.6 million mobile apps available on the Apple App Store, Google Play, and Amazon Appstore, users have no shortage of options.

Standing out in a crowded mobile app market is tricky, to say the least.

How can you ensure your app stands out and earns consistent downloads in a crowded market? It all comes down to your mobile app marketing strategy.

The right mobile marketing strategy will be a catalyst that drives customer acquisition, but mobile app marketing isn't just about earning more downloads. The most effective marketing plans are holistic and focus on all three stages: acquisition, engagement, and retention.

In this guide, we'll outline how to approach each stage as part of your overall strategy for marketing mobile apps. You'll also learn which metrics to monitor so you can analyze the performance of your acquisition, engagement, and retention efforts.

With this knowledge in hand, you can get to work building a comprehensive strategy that attracts new users who stick around for years to come.

Building Your Mobile App Marketing Strategy

Your full mobile app marketing strategy touches on all stages of your marketing funnel, from initial awareness and user acquisition through engagement and retention.

  • Acquisition: To increase awareness about your app and acquire more downloads, you need to answer the question, "How can I convince users to download and install our app in the first place?" You'll find the answer through a combination of research and marketing, which we'll explain in more detail shortly. 

  • Engagement: This stage is all about encouraging engagement with your app and its features. User experience and design are primary drivers of engagement. Get those areas right, and you have a greater chance of success.

  • Retention: Loyal users stick with your app, increasing retention rates. There are a variety of ways to improve retention, including in-app messaging, push notifications, and ongoing email marketing.

Each stage will benefit from close collaboration between your product and marketing teams. From doing market research and selecting marketing channels to creating in-app messages to guide and retain users, input from both teams will facilitate sustainable success.

With that in mind, let's take a closer look at each phase of building a mobile app marketing strategy, including specific steps and strategies you can use to increase acquisition, engagement, and retention.

The Acquisition Stage: Attract New Users for Your App

There are four key steps to complete to increase awareness and acquire new users:

  1. Conduct market research to identify your target users and learn about their interests, problems, and challenges.

  2. Complete a competitive analysis to learn what the competition is doing (so you can determine how to differentiate your app).

  3. Deploy organic marketing strategies like SEO, thought leadership content, and social media.

  4. Test paid marketing strategies like PPC ads, social media ads, and remarketing campaigns.

Conducting Market Research 

Who do you want to download your app? What are their biggest pain points and how will your app solve them? Are there any other apps that already solve your target users' problems?

Market research will help you answer these questions.

The end goal of market research is to determine exactly who your ideal customer is. To find the information you seek, check out relevant:

  • Blogs and websites
  • Industry reports and whitepapers
  • Customer reviews of similar and/or related apps
  • Forums and groups (Reddit, Slack, and groups are great resources)
  • Influencers in your niche

The above suggestions are all secondary research methods, meaning you won't talk directly with potential users. Primary research is another key component of market research, and you control the data collection process. Tools that you can use in primary market research include:

  • Customer surveys
  • In-depth interviews
  • Small in-person or virtual focus groups
  • Initial beta testing with the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) version of your app

Soon enough, you'll have a complete picture of your ideal users, including information you can use to attract their attention and persuade them to download your app.

Assessing Competitor-Owned Mobile Apps

Competitive research is a type of market research, so you'll likely complete this step alongside the customer-centric research described above.

Find your top competitors and do the following for each app you're reviewing:

  • Review the keywords and descriptions used to describe the app.
  • Download the app and assess its user interface and functionality.
  • Read user reviews and note any common themes.
  • Study marketing strategies, including websites, social media strategies, and email campaigns.
  • Identify each app's unique selling proposition.

In addition to this research, create a feature matrix that compares pricing, app store ranking, reviews, design, UX, calls to action, update frequency, and other key components of each competitor's app.

Building Your Organic Marketing Channels

Once you understand the market, your customers, and the competition, it's time to think about the tactics and strategies that will support your app marketing campaigns.

The first order of business is selecting your organic marketing channels. Organic marketing refers to all marketing tactics and channels that don't require payment in exchange for exposure to your audience.

Every mobile app should have a website or landing page that explains what your app does and who it's for. Drive traffic to this page and include an email signup form to gauge interest and start building your audience.

Beyond a website or landing page, consider these additional organic marketing options for your mobile app outreach strategy:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Social media
  • Lead magnets, like downloadable ebooks, templates, or other resources
  • Email marketing
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts (being a guest on a podcast is a great way to increase awareness and drive acquisition)
  • Content partnerships
  • Affiliate marketing

You don't want to attempt every item on this list — that's a recipe for budget bloat and burnout.

Instead, review your research to determine which outlets make the most sense for your target audience and allocate resources accordingly. For example, if your ideal users are avid podcast listeners but aren't super active on social media, focus on SEO and podcasts in your organic marketing efforts.

Testing Paid Marketing Strategies

It takes time to see the results of your organic marketing campaigns. Add paid marketing to the mix to get your mobile app in front of more people faster.

With paid marketing, you pay a third-party platform (like Google or Meta) to serve targeted advertising content to your prospective audience. This approach can provide a substantial boost in exposure, allowing you to reach a wider audience and acquire more new users in less time.

Similar to organic marketing, there are tons of paid advertising channels you can leverage:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC) ads
  • Display ads
  • Social media ads
  • Remarketing campaigns to reach users who have interacted with your website, ads, or other content
  • Sponsored webinars and other events
  • In-app ads on other apps

There's no need to try every paid advertising channel to market your mobile app. Instead, think about where your audience "hangs out" online. If your ideal users aren't on a particular social media platform, like TikTok or Facebook, don't waste your advertising dollars on those platforms.

Fortunately, paid advertising allows you to test different channels quickly and efficiently. If a channel isn't delivering ROI after a few weeks or months, you can easily test another one.

The Engagement Stage: Create a Compelling User Experience

Once a user has downloaded your app, they enter the engagement stage of your mobile app marketing strategy. Here, you want to make strategic decisions about the overall user experience, design, and how you engage with users inside of the app.

Designing an Engaging User Experience

Effective UX design satisfies user needs, enhances their experience, and facilitates continued app engagement.

The most successful mobile apps have a user interface that includes:

  • An intuitive onboarding experience
  • A clear and straightforward home screen
  • Organized app architecture
  • Access to next step communication channels

Poor design is avoidable when you put users first. When designing an app, ask questions like:

  • What problems do users want to solve? 
  • Which features are most important and/or impactful when solving those problems?
  • How do users want to feel when they use the app and specific features?
  • Where do specific features fit in the overall user journey?
  • Will users need extra support to get the most out of certain features?

With this approach, you'll naturally focus on user needs instead of passing design trends. 

Testing In-App Marketing Techniques

You can also bring your mobile app marketing strategy into the app.

In-app marketing helps you reach users while they're actively using your mobile app. Use marketing messages inside of your app to guide users and help them get the maximum benefit from your solutions.

Here are some in-app marketing techniques you can try:

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  • Collect user feedback. Go straight to the source with a user survey that asks questions about the user's experience. For example, when a user meets Daily Active User (DAU) criteria, automatically send an in-app survey that asks, "What do you love most about this app?" Give users several options to choose from and include an "Other" option if they want to share a reason that isn't mentioned. Use this information to influence future app marketing campaigns and guide the product roadmap. You can ask for user feedback about a variety of things, including specific features or why they're canceling a subscription.

  • Provide personalized onboarding. According to research from Zendesk, 87% of users in North America are willing to spend more with companies that offer personalized experiences. You can apply this logic to your onboarding process to help increase engagement.

For example, let's say you have a productivity app with time-tracking, task management, and project-planning features. Your audience includes freelancers who want to manage their tasks and time across multiple clients and team leaders who need to manage complex department-wide projects.

  • In the onboarding process, ask each group to share their roles and goals. The freelancer onboarding process could then start by setting up tasks and time tracking. Team leaders could start by setting up a project and inviting team members. When your onboarding experience is specifically tailored to different users and their use cases, people are more likely to engage with your app.

  • Create tooltip sequences. Tooltip messages that educate users are a great way to improve engagement. Use them to guide users through your app and quickly show them how everything works. The main goal of tool sequences is to guide users toward their "aha moment," where they suddenly realize that your app is a valuable tool. Once users reach this point, they're more likely to engage with and continue using your app.

  • Announce new features and updates. Whenever you release a new feature or update, don't be shy about it — let users know! Otherwise, they may never even see that a new functionality exists.

  • In-app messages and notifications in your activity feeds are a handy way to make these announcements. To make sure more users hear about your app's most recent updates, consider sending an email to your list as well. If someone stopped using your app because of a missing feature, this notice could be enough to engage them once again. When writing your announcements, keep them short and explain exactly how the update will improve the app experience.

The Retention Stage: Keep Users Coming Back for More

You've acquired users and they're engaging with your app. The next step is to retain them for the long haul.

Retention rates are critical for the ongoing success of your mobile app. In some ways, they're even more important than new users. Consider these examples:

  1. You acquire 2,000 new users, with a 15% retention rate after 30 days.
  2. You acquire 1,000 new users, with a 40% retention rate after 30 days.

In the first scenario, you're left with 300 users after 30 days; in the second, 400.

Retaining users is no small feat, as any product manager or app creator knows. By some estimates, Android app users in the U.S. uninstall more than 36% of the apps they download on their phones within 30 days.

Your app doesn't have to be part of the 36%; there are plenty of ways to retain users and reduce churn. Engagement is half the battle, so if you're using some of the strategies we outlined in the last section, you're off to a solid start.

Additional user retention strategies you can implement in your app and within your broader marketing program include:

  • Push notifications
  • In-app messaging
  • Activity feeds
  • Email marketing

Let's explore each strategy in more detail.

Using Push Notifications To Retain Users

Push notifications inside of an app are a powerful retention tool. You can use them to drive a variety of actions. For example, use them to alert users about promotions, loyalty rewards, new features, and limited-time content.

The key is to use push notifications with purpose.

Think about your objectives to determine when, where, and how to deploy helpful and engaging push notifications for your app. Few things are more annoying than a constant barrage of notifications. Using too many can hurt user retention.

Implementing In-App Messaging

In-app messaging delivers targeted, contextual messages that drive action while users are actively using an app. You can use in-app messages to encourage users to make purchases or refer friends, announce new features, celebrate key engagement milestones, and much more. The result? Increased app engagement and retention.

Here's an example: The CollX app is a sports card marketplace. They implemented a chat api to facilitate community building and deal negotiation among users and saw a 75% retention rate among the app's chat users.

Utilizing Email Marketing for Increased Retention

Email marketing has a place in all stages of your mobile app marketing program, including the retention phase.

Use email marketing to stay in touch with users and share details about how they can get the most out of your app. Your emails also provide a venue for showcasing your brand's expertise and building community.

If you have case studies or customer testimonials from satisfied users, include those in your email campaigns, too. Social proof is incredibly powerful because it demonstrates exactly how your app can solve common problems and pain points. 

Measuring the Performance of Your Mobile App Marketing

You'll likely need to experiment with different strategies to determine which tactics resonate the most with your users, which is why it's so important to monitor relevant acquisition, engagement, and retention metrics.

There's a vast array of mobile app KPIs you can track to measure the overall performance of your mobile app marketing campaign, but you shouldn't attempt to track all of the metrics we're about to review.

Trying to measure, monitor, and move too many data points at once is a surefire way to waste precious time and resources. While each of the metrics below can offer helpful data-driven insights, be discerning and focus on the KPIs that are most important for your mobile app.

Acquisition Metrics

New Users: Users acquired over a specific time frame

Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): The cost to acquire a new user, including the costs of marketing campaigns, employees, and any other resources that you use to attract new users

Click-Through Rate (CTR): The percentage of users who click on your ad and land on your app's page in the app store

Conversion Rates: These can measure an almost limitless number of actions --- for example, for acquisition, you can track the number of app installs that occur after someone visits your app's store page

Virality Rate: The number of users who installed your app, thanks to referrals from existing users

Organic vs. Paid Installs: The ratio of users who found your app organically versus those who installed it after engaging with a paid ad

App Store Rankings: Your app's ranking in an app store's search results

Engagement Metrics

Load Time: How long it takes your app to load (If your app has high load times, users are less likely to engage.)

Daily Active Users (DAU): The number of users who actively use your app each day (You can also track monthly active users, or MAUs.)

Stickiness: The ratio of daily active users to monthly active users, which helps measure how often users engage with your app over a longer period

Session Length: The amount of time users spend inside your app each time they use it (Low session lengths can signal an engagement problem.)

Session Interval: How long people go between sessions (This metric measures the time between a user's individual sessions and shows you how frequently they engage with your app.)

Interaction Rates: The rate at which users interact with your app's features (You can get granular and track interaction rates across different features to see which ones users like the most.)

Bounce Rate: The percentage of users who open your app only to leave without performing any actions or engaging further

Retention Metrics

Churn Rate: When a user unsubscribes, deletes, or otherwise stops using your app (You can also track revenue churn alongside customer churn.)

User Lifetime Value: How much value you can expect to receive from a user throughout the lifetime of their app usage

Retention Rate: The percentage of users who return to your app after their first use

Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR): How much revenue your app generates each month (If your retention rates are low, you'll likely see a decrease in your MRR.)

Cohort Analysis: User behavior based on groups of users who share similar attributes, such as downloading your app during the same period (This can provide insights into what causes a user to stick around.)

Customer Satisfaction (CSAT): How satisfied your users are with your app (Find out with a CSAT survey. High CSATs indicate happy customers with less potential for churn, and low CSATs suggest a potential for increased churn.)

Net Promoter Score (NPS): Measures customer loyalty (NPS surveys ask, "On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend this product to others?")

Mobile App Marketing Is an Ongoing Process

Your work isn't done once you've implemented a mobile app marketing strategy and have a process for reviewing important metrics.

Much like mobile app development, app marketing is a never-ending process that requires ongoing maintenance. You're bound to find new factors to adjust and test as time goes on. Don't hesitate to try new acquisition, engagement, and retention strategies.

An "always be testing" mindset will serve you well, especially when you have alignment on the exact metrics you want to move. Soon enough, you'll have a cohesive app marketing system that attracts, engages, and retains users.

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