Tapping The 10 Habits Of Highly Effective Mobile Heroes To Boost App Marketing And Engagement

App marketing and user acquisition can be a battle. “Mobile Heroes” reveal their pick of top tips and advice to help marketers engage and retain users in the year ahead.

In a market where 95% of users are likely to churn within 90 days, spending blindly on user acquisition is a sure-fire way to burn money as fast as you can make it. That’s why smart marketers are shifting away from app installs, surface data, and metrics that led app marketing to the brink of amobile engagement crisis. Now, marketers are focusing on new ways to drive actions and conversions deeper into the funnel. They have realized value trumps volume.

The ability to architect a comprehensive app marketing strategy–one that prioritizes quality over quantity and engagement over installs–is what will distinguish the leaders from the also-rans. To help you super-charge your approach, and open the aperture of how you view and pursue growth opportunities in 2018, I draw from the lessons and habits of ten remarkable mobile marketers and user acquisition (UA) managers whose expertise has earned them the title Mobile Heroes. Below you’ll find advice and tips from Mobile Heroes excerpted from interviews that have aired on Mobile Presence, a weekly podcast series I host (a position for which I am not paid).


Alessandra Sales, VP of Marketing at Smule, has harnessed a deep understanding of users to drive experiences that amaze and engage customers for the company’s social music-making app. Before joining Smule she headed marketing efforts at companies including Zoosk, where the ability to make a match between audiences and advertising was at the core of converting people shopping for the perfect date.

Learn from your power users. Installs give you volume, but engagement drives revenue. High ROI is the measure of a highly effective campaign, so monitor the metrics that matter most. At the top of the list is LTV (lifetime value), the prized metric that yields the value of future cash flows based on calculations tied to the actions and affinities of your users. Calculating LTV can be a challenge for some app categories, but not for Smule. It monetizes primarily through a subscription model–which generates a highly predictable cash flow. Knowing LTV–and connecting it to early metrics–allowed Smule to “better distribute budget across regions and products, and scale campaigns while keeping a healthy ROI,” Sales tells me.

Alessandra’s tip: Look at your power users. “We observed their early behavior in the app then studied which behaviors strongly correlated with a purchase intent,” she explains. Using these data-informed insights allowed Smule to improve targeting and, importantly, architect re-engagement campaigns sure to drive conversions.

Her reason: Watching the actions users take before committing to a subscription lays the groundwork for effective re-engagement campaigns that target users at critical stages. It’s an extra effort to map and influence the user journey at the moment of decision, but ROI on these campaigns is “around 20% higher than on generic CPI campaigns.”


Annica Lin, Senior Acquisition Manager at Stash–a fintech company offering a mobile app with micro-investing services–has turned an obsession with data into a solid career. Since leaving her native Taiwan to pursue her own American Dream she has focused on hard numbers and real results.

Effective seed audiences start with segmentation. Effective app marketing is powered by approaches that take the guesswork out of targeting high-quality users who are highly likely to convert in your app. Lookalike targeting wins on both counts. It enables marketers to reach and engage new audiences likely to be interested in the app because they’re strikingly similar to the existing (and loyal) users in the customer base. “Success hinges on how you select and segment your seed audience–the users that you want the algorithm to analyze in order to find more of the same,” Lin tells me. Start out by identifying the audience attributes–such as gender, income level, location, age–that are important and relevant to your app. Then narrow down the precise percentage of lookalike users to target. Keep in mind there are benefits and trade-offs, and size does matter. Targeting a smaller percentage (between 1% and 3%, for example) obviously yields a smaller pool of users. But focusing on a small number of high-quality users can also increase your chances to reach and engage users genuinely interested in what you have to offer. Casting a wider net (between 1% and 10%) can produce a larger pool of users and a greater danger of wastage. She says, “The quality may be lower since the users are not so similar to your seed audience, and this typically results in lower conversion rates.”

Annica’s tip: Adapt your targeting percentage to your offer. “If your app appeals to a niche audience, like lovers of luxury goods, then dialling down the percentage of lookalike users you want to target can help ensure you reach high-value users and high results for your campaign.” Besides adjusting the percentage of lookalike users to align with your campaign goals, you can also narrow down audience size by layering over data around demographics, interests, and behavioral targeting.

Her reason: “A higher quality seed audience will ultimately drive better ROI and LTV for the lookalike campaign–clearing the way so you can bid more aggressively to scale up the campaign.”


Cassie Chernin, Senior Manager Digital Marketing at HomeAdvisor, a digital marketplace evolving the way homeowners connect with service professionals– manages all aspects of display and app marketing acquisition and retention. Prior to HomeAdvisor, Cassie honed her marketing skills at online personal fine jeweler Gemvara, where she began a pursuit of growth hacking and direct response marketing opportunities that would define her career path.

Go for value–and look beyond the install. Installs are top-funnel events but not necessarily top priority. In fact, many companies, including HomeAdvisor, are looking beyond the install to make customer connections and drive conversions. For HomeAdvisor, it’s in-app bookings that matter. Cassie tells me this is the motivation behind the company’s transition from driving a high volume of installs to cultivating and converting high-value users–customers that use the app to find contractors for all 6-8 home projects (the average number of projects a homeowner completes per year).

Cassie’s tip: “Build out a simple but effective LTV (customer lifetime value) model that focuses on your key metrics, not just the cost-per-install (CPI).”

Her reason: “When you focus on CPI, you can get poor-quality installs that don’t add real value.” She therefore advises marketers to optimize for their post-install goal, an approach that will allow them to focus on the bigger picture rather than straight installs.


Move the needle on app campaigns by observing users, wielding data, and driving deep-funnel engagement. These are just a few top tips from “Mobile Heroes.”


Cole Mercer, Director of Digital Media for the Norton and LifeLock brands at Symantec, specializes in growing mobile apps using social media, paid, and organic user acquisition techniques. A laser focus on finding ways to engage and retain existing users–not just find new ones–has helped him meet and exceed campaign targets across the board.

Be creative in how you create the ‘Moment Of Truth.’  In marketing, the Moment of Truth (MoT) is the instance of contact or interaction that gives the customer an opportunity to form or change their impression of the company. In app marketing, you face the same challenge–to make a great impression or influence behavior–but you have a wide array of tools, including push notifications, to get you to this goal. “Start by establishing what makes your app unique and then delve deeper to identify your key value proposition and the context that will accentuate this,” Mercer tells me. Early on, this was defined by user context. He says, “We figured out pretty quickly that many VPN users were looking for a way to secure their public Wi-Fi connection above anything else.” The product team drew on that insight to implement a cross-sell app MoT into their most popular app, Norton Mobile Security. In practice, users with the Norton Mobile Security app receive a notification when they are on an unsecured Wi-Fi connection. Tapping the notification prompts them to install the Norton Wi-Fi Privacy VPN to secure their connection.

Cole’s tip: Look beyond messaging to find other approaches and partnerships that will enable you to recreate and reinforce the MoT to your advantage.

His reason: Understanding user context opens the doors to new possibilities, such as partnerships to target users connecting to free Wi-Fi in airports and urban areas. A smart move since travelers and users with this persona would naturally congregate in such places and share a concern about the security of their Wi-Fi connection. “Using this combination of contextual targeting + messaging to recreate our Moment of Truth has outperformed all our other campaigns to date.”


Kartick Narayan, VP of Growth & Computational Marketing at Coupang–one of the largest and fastest growing e-commerce platforms–started a career in finance before joining online shopping giant Amazon. Experience driving algorithmic advertising and marketing inspired him to take key learnings to a new level, bringing together product, engineering, and marketin

Find the ‘golden path.’ Deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time using the right channel on the right platform. It’s the mantra of all marketers, but a must for app marketers. It’s easy to get confused when identifying and understanding active, inactive, and lapsed customers across your user base. What helps, Narayan tells me, is to start with a laser focus on segmenting customers between “whales” and “minnows.” Once you have split between the disproportionately big spenders (or whales) and the rest, then it’s time to map what he calls the “golden path” to conversion that will lead whales to deepen long term engagement and increase retention. At the same time, you need to encourage minnows to grow up and start acting like whales. You do this by pinpointing the early leading indicators and variables among your minnows–such as average session length and cross category shopping patterns–which give you high confidence in minnows having the ability to emulate (even eclipse) your whales.

Kartick’s tip: Use clustering to find the whale and minnow groups in your user base. “When used properly, machine learning libraries such as scikit-learn can be effective for customer segmentation because it uses clustering of data sets at a very large scale.”

His reason: It works. Using this technique has contributed to shaping his long term engineering and product roadmaps which in turn has increased the number of whale customers.


Marco Esposito, Senior International Mobile Marketing Manager at online food delivery service Delivery Hero, draws on a strong background in ethnographic marketing to turn campaigns into “conversations.” It’s an approach at the forefront of the company’s strategy to target and retarget audiences across the 50+ countries where it operates.

Get personal in your messaging. Getting users to download your app is certainly not a walk in the park, but taking a walk in your users’ shoes (and keeping in step with their desire for advertising that genuinely speaks to them) is a must to boost app engagement and interaction. “It’s important to know your audience, speak their language and engage them in a relevant conversation,” Esposito explains. Putting this into practice–through personalized messaging that is aligned with every aspect of the user, all the way down to dialect–has paid dividends. To boost brand interaction, and ultimately conversion, among users living in major cities across the Middle East, Delivery Hero adopted a more local voice. Campaigns targeted this audience segment with visual assets that were an appropriate match both with their local context (city of residence, for example) and their local dialects.

Marco’s tip: Avoid language in advertising and notifications that is generic, or just plain boring. “Personalize the communication with dynamic ads wherever and whenever possible, and A/B test your ad copy and messages to sound genuine.”

His reason: Engaging, personalized communication has allowed Delivery Hero to deepen connections and scale its user base. “But it’s a never-ending process of learning about your audience and finding new ways to adapt your campaigns to the way they want to communicate.”


Nat Robinson, Head of Marketing at MileIQ–a Microsoft company headquartered in San Francisco–drives subscriptions of the mileage tracking mobile app (and overall customer loyalty) by educating users on ways they can use the app to get the most value.

Test, experiment–and follow the feedback. From Da Vinci to Jeff Bezos, history is filled with examples that underline the inextricable link between excellence and experimentation. It’s an ethos that’s baked into Amazon’s corporate DNA. (Makes sense that Bezos remarks success at Amazon is “a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day.”) At MileIQ, Robinson tells me, a similar “culture of experimentation” has allowed the company to discover new approaches that have paid surprising dividends. “It all starts with defining processes that allow your people to practice. This practice will become a habit, and over time part of your culture,” he explains.

Nat’s tip: Organize a weekly “Funnel Meeting” where Product, Marketing, Engineering, Support, and Data Science all take part, review growth priorities, and brainstorm experiments to run and results to measure.

His reason: It’s this spirit of internal experimentation that allowed MileIQ to set pricing and paywall for the mileage logging services. Early on, he recalls, many advised the team not to charge for the app. “But we’d done a lot of testing around value perception and how users perceived our value-add.” The outcome was a double positive. First, the tests helped MileIQ validate its model and the business sense of charging for the app. Second, testing yielded valuable feedback–from paying users–that allows the company to focus energy and experimentation on what matters most to keep customers coming back.


Nick Quan, Performance Marketing Manager, Growth and User Acquisition at Twitter, is focused on acquiring new users through paid mobile channels. He was previously at EA, where he managed the mobile user acquisition efforts for mobile titles including Madden, FIFA, and Iron Force.

Leverage programmatic now to beat the holiday rush. Holidays are a hot time for mobile advertising campaigns–a dynamic that can send the costs of acquiring users (and users who convert) into the stratosphere. There’s no escaping high prices, but there are ways to ensure you achieve high performance. “If you’re going to start paying more for users, then you definitely want to make sure you’re engaging with your exact target audience,” Quan tells me. This is where programmatic can make a big difference. Start by providing your programmatic partner with the audience list you want to engage with, and dedicate a larger portion of your budget towards retargeting/reactivation.

Nick’s tip: “Making this shift in your strategy will help you justify increased costs by ensuring your mobile campaigns continue to deliver qualified valuable users.” This in turn helps you maintain your return on ad spend (ROAS) goals. And a bonus: “Get those holiday-themed creatives ready with tailored messaging to match.” Thanks to programmatic you know the exact audience that will see your ads, so use the opportunity to make your mark.

His reason: “By providing my programmatic partners with my exact target audience I was able to minimize wasted ad impressions and reach those users who I knew based on the data were most likely to convert and maintain a positive ROAS.”


Vivian Chang, Director Digital Marketing at RetailMeNot–a savings destination connecting consumers with retailers, restaurants and brands, both online and in-store– has proven success optimizing media with an audience-focused approach that has helped drive mobile app use and engagement.

Partner to prosper. In app marketing, the ultimate goal is to achieve high performance. Treat ad networks and ad tech vendors as partners—as opposed to just another traffic source—and brief them on your high-level marketing goals, plans, and trends. Doing so lays the groundwork for a deeper working relationship that can unleash great ideas. “Partners work with a broad swath of retailers and may have valuable industry and vertical insights which can help you refine your in-house strategy,” Chang tells me. “Discussions with like-minded partners often spur new testing ideas and out-of-the-box solutions.”

Vivian’s tip: The best long-term partners are those interested in promoting your business success, not just closing the next sale. “Spend the effort cultivating your ‘tribe’ of partners when things are going well, and you’ll have a network to rely on during unexpected changes in your business.”

Her reason: Working with the right partners has helped RetailMeNot to stay relevant as a top shopping app in a highly competitive market. It also helps ensure the company is spending budget effectively. “Collaboration with our partners led us to integrate new tools that improved mobile ad fraud detection, thereby ensuring that we are reaching a high-quality audience and high performance.”


Vinícius Gerez, Senior Marketing Manager at Berlin-based game developer Wooga, has spent a decade at the company growing the casual games player base through paid channels and innovative approaches to ad optimization. In addition to app marketing and testing, he also manages real-time bidding (RTB) strategy for global markets.

Make the effort to match creatives to audiences. As most app marketers are armed with an arsenal of data and analytics tools to perfect their performance marketing, some clever marketers are moving to master the art of activating–and optimizing–ad creatives to gain and maintain a competitive edge. Their approaches are still data-informed, but the emphasis is on architecting app experiences that heighten interest, not costs. “First impressions count, so show the user up front what your app is really all about,” Gerez tells me. Nailing the right creative is an art grounded in science. It helps to deconstruct your ad into component parts, and experiment with combinations. “Keep in mind that different audiences will likely respond to different aspects of your app, so work on specific iterations of your ads for specific audiences to cater to their tastes.”

Vinícius’ tip: “Once you find the perfect match, the way is clear to start testing variations of that creative aspect, and get further wins.”

His reason: As Wooga offers a wide range of games apps it has also tested a wide range of creatives. “In some cases, our conversion rates doubled once we cracked the code.”

Peggy Anne Salz is an analyst, author and content strategist in Europe, where she tracks mobile trends shaping our data-driven digital economy. Follow her on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.