App marketing today is a crazy game. With so many established enterprises and well-funded startups fighting to acquire users at any cost, a potpourri of paid app advertising solutions have emerged over the last few years. These include banner ad networks, incentivized installs, or Groupon for apps (such as the recently funded AppGratis). Each of these pay-per-download channels only serve to leave the app marketer as the biggest loser in the ecosystem.
While the exact method of providing these downloads may differ, the end goal for these companies are identical: provide downloads to those who can afford to pay by any means necessary. There’s no quality control and no way to ensure a marketer is spending their money wisely and profitably.
How did we get here?
There’s a lot of blame to go around for this problem: a land-grab mentality by entrepreneurs and investors has led to a push to acquire users at any cost; ad networks of all shapes and sizes want a piece of the inflated prices (who can forget the happiness of this marketer with $13 per install costs?); and the app stores themselves, with their lacking (though improving) discovery mechanisms.
In fact, the app stores themselves might be the single biggest reason why app marketers are trapped in the nasty trap of paid downloads. The Top Charts are reminiscent of Yahoo’s What’s New page, which highlighted the hottest new pages on the web. They’re the kingmakers of the app store, and the algorithm is pretty transparent — get enough downloads quickly and you’ll rise in the charts. What’s a marketer to do, then, with a mandate to get lots of downloads? Pay money to get downloads quickly (regardless of the quality of those users), allowing for a rise in the charts which, in turn, sends more poorly targeted, mass-market users, that’s what.
It’s the marketer who loses
It all leads to the biggest loser in app marketing today being the marketer. They’re wasting cash left and right. They’re acquiring users who don’t truly care about their app. They’re playing a game we all know ends badly. Whether it’s when the money runs dry, the users get pissed, or the app stores make the Top Charts less important, everyone knows it will end, it’s only a matter of when.
The smart app marketers are opting-out of this game entirely and focusing on finding ways to profitably acquire customers. Inevitably, this sends a marketer heading straight for inbound channels, such as app store search, social and sharing, earned media/PR, and web landing pages. These channels scale without marketing dollars added for each additional user, and target users based on interest and intent.
As the saying goes, if you look around the table and can’t spot the sucker, it’s you. For many app marketers, this is happening. Rather than continuing to go all-in against a table full of sharks, they’re deciding to play at a table where the odds for success are on their side.
Go be successful. Switch tables now.
Becky is the Senior Content Marketing Manager at TUNE. Before TUNE, she led a variety of marketing and communications projects at San Francisco startups. Becky received her bachelor's degree in English from Wake Forest University. After living nearly a decade in San Francisco and Seattle, she has returned to her home of Charleston, SC, where you can find her enjoying the sun and salt water with her family.