Mobile app publishers often rely on their internal teams to drive organic and paid user acquisition strategies. Depending on the company structure, teams are sometimes split between marketing and user acquisition/growth. Within these teams, you will find functions such as Performance Marketing, Growth Marketing, ASO or Monetization managers.
However, smaller companies may not have the in-house resources to conduct organic or paid user acquisition strategies at scale. They may not have a fully staffed creative team to produce a large number of ad creatives (thus risking ad fatigue), or even videos for their app store page. This is when mobile agencies come in handy.
App marketing agencies offer a fast and cheap solution to scale paid user acquisition for mobile app publishers. Most mobile app publishers are extensively using external agencies to get more users for their apps or mobile games, as they very much need extra hands.
The different types of mobile user acquisition agencies
There are many mobile agencies out there proposing their UA services to mobile publishers. Each agency has its own value proposition, market authority, size, and expertise. It can be quite challenging for mobile publishers who are willing to scale their UA activities to choose the right agency to partner with.
The services offered by mobile agencies
First, most mobile agencies don’t restrain themselves to just user acquisition services. Often, they offer a variety of services to mobile app publishers, such as :
- App store optimization services: to increase an app’s visibility on the app stores to drive organic installs
- App launch services: to support the most important moment – that of getting an app or a game out in the market, and getting it right.
- Paid user acquisition services: to make sure paid ads money is wisely spent in order to get as many users for your app – and not just many, but also the right ones. User acquisition is done via a variety of channels, such as Tiktok, Facebook or Snapchat, where publishers set up numerous targeting campaigns. Some agencies such as MCSaatchi Performance also propose media buying services to optimize programmatic advertising activities.
- App growth services: to make sure that an app or game is performing well, focusing on metrics such as MAU (monthly active users), retention, or app funnel optimization
- App monetization services: to help app developers maximize their revenue, either via in-app advertising, in-app purchases, or mobile orders.
- Creative services: to produce high-quality creatives for your mobile app. For the most part, creative services are related to producing ads. As 89% of mobile publishers are using video ads, agencies such as Consumer Acquisition are mostly producing video ads at scale for mobile publishers.
Besides, mobile marketing agencies must keep their clients informed of their overall performance. They regularly share extensive reporting results and dashboards, sometimes via API.
App publishers may not need all these services – i.e. they don’t necessarily need to resort to a full-service app marketing agency, depending on the structure of their own internal growth and marketing team. However, when it comes to user acquisition or creative services, publishers can quickly get out of their depth as their activities scale up.
How to work with a mobile agency?
App marketing agencies partner with a mobile publisher on their own terms, but in general, they follow very similar partnership patterns.
1. Clarifying objectives with the publisher
First, agencies ask publishers many questions in order to understand the publisher’s pain points and to what extent they need the services of the agencies. The goal here is to identify the objectives of the publisher, for example: growing an app’s user base by 50% in the next 6 months, or scaling ad spend to $100K per day across 4 ad networks. The more descriptive a publisher is about their mobile UA objectives, the easier it will be for a mobile agency to provide satisfying services.
2. Developing a UA strategy
Based on the publisher’s objectives and other outputs, the agency crafts a proposed strategy. As they generally are data-driven, agencies rely on existing performance data shared by the publisher. It is thus important for publishers and agencies to ensure that analytics dashboards are well set up, in order to understand past and current metric performance, and keep track of the trends.
Agencies will also have a look at the history of the creatives produced by the publisher for their paid ad campaigns. Assessing what has been done before in terms of creative assets is critical, since this analysis will help agencies decide what strategic orientation they want to take on the creative side.
3. Launching Marketing activities
Once the publisher and the agency agree on a set strategy, the next step is execution. Agencies will start the production of ad creatives – mostly videos – in line with the expectations of the publisher.
On the paid UA side, the creatives produced are leveraged across the different ad networks and campaigns (with numerous audience targeting settings). The goal is to get the best conversion rates and good performance on metrics such as Cost per install, ROASD7, etc.
4. Testing & Optimizing activities
Building ad creatives and launching campaigns are not a one-off! The best agencies are the ones who keep testing, keep iterating, and keep optimizing. They won’t sit idle and wait for the next steps. They will constantly look at performance data to understand how their campaigns, and subsequently their ad creatives, perform. App publishers will need to provide transparent data and robust analytics tools to help the agency make the right decision in terms of campaign iteration, and consequently build growth.
How to leverage an agency’s creative services?
As previously mentioned, most agencies’ creative services are focused on ads, or store-listing creative assets. They are fully staffed to produce high-quality videos in record time, using technology like motion design, and classic video-editing software like Adobe After Effect. It is very important for publishers to tap into agencies’ creative capabilities as they may complement their own creatives’ team skills and know-how.
Overall, creative services from agencies are made up of 4 main areas:
- Strategy and conceptualization
1. Creative research
The first step to a successful creative strategy is research. Agencies, in partnership with the mobile publisher, will dive into a wealth of creatives to collect takeaways. They’ll look into what the publisher has done in the past, but also what competitors are doing, or what’s currently trending in terms of mobile ads.
Agencies will build intelligence over potentially successful concepts that are available for testing. They will ask questions and lead discussions over creative concepts such as:
- Should you have real-life elements in your ads?
- Should you add a funny twist to your ads?
- What text and music should be incorporated in your ads?
The mobile publisher needs to be involved in this research phase to make sure the research work is going in the right direction, and to feed the agency with as much data and information as possible.
2. Conceptualizing and strategizing
After the research phase, the agency needs to come up with a plan. The mobile marketing agency presents to the publisher what needs to be done, how and by when. The robustness of the plan presented by the agency will be key to driving trust with the app publisher. For example, the agency will come up with several concepts for video ads, in the form of a brief or a mock-up version, that the app publisher will validate or invalidate.
Then, the agency will expose its strategy to launch these ad concepts into the market. How will the agency decide to test each concept? Which networks, which audience? How much percentage of the total spend should be dedicated to each concept? What results will be considered a success? Or a failure? These are questions that need to be answered by the agency to ensure that their creative proposals are rigorously tested on the paid channels.
3. Production phase
Once an advertising concept and its associated paid campaign strategy have been developed, the agency will start the production phase, i.e. the making of a video ad. Because mobile ad videos are relatively short, i.e. between 10 and 90 seconds, the production of a video ad is quickly done on the agency side. Some agencies need less than 1 working day – but it all depends on the volume of ad creatives requested.
During that phase, the publisher needs to review the freshly produced creatives. Setting up a feedback loop between the mobile agency and the app publisher is very useful so that the publisher can control what comes out of production, and make sure that the initial concept brief is respected.
You never know how a creative concept will perform until you test it. Publishers and agencies need to test their concepts against the market to find out if their idea is a good one. For that, the creative concept is promoted across different paid UA channels, embedded in campaigns that are targeting an audience with an affinity for this video creative.
The testing phase is an important one for both publishers and agencies because it will validate or invalidate a creative concept. In general, it is recommended to spend a certain amount of money on the creative concept, then benchmark results against other previously made creatives.
Choosing the right paid UA agency
When app publishers contact an agency, they need to gauge their capabilities to meet their UA needs. There are many elements you should take into consideration before making a decision.
1. The level of transparency on both sides
App publishers need to be fully transparent with the agency about their current business situation, such as KPIs and metrics, operational processes, budget, and agenda. Being transparent will help the ongoing discussions and ensures that the agency gets the publisher’s brief right. Transparency is a stepping stone to efficient communication, which is key in client/agency relationships.
Besides, the level of transparency shown by the agency can be a deciding factor for the app publisher. An opaque agency will unlikely be a good partner – ie. they may not communicate clearly about the results of their ad creative tests, or retain important information about how they selected a specific creative concept. A lack of transparency could directly affect a mobile publisher’s growth because important insights discovered by the agency may not be shared with the publisher.
Hence, it is advised to gauge the level of transparency of a mobile marketing agency, on topics such as research work, ad conceptualization, ad testing, and performance results.
2. The depth of research
Sometimes, app marketing agencies don’t spend enough time investigating their client’s or prospects’ businesses. They may give superficial recommendations on how to improve paid UA channels, or propose generic, overused creative concepts.
A key assessment point for publishers will be to analyze the quality of the work done by the agency to understand a publisher’s business. How much did they investigate competitors’ ad campaigns? What kind of historical analysis did they carry out?
A publisher is often wowed by an agency when their research into historical performance led to conclusions unknown to the publisher itself.
3. Their proposed creative concepts
Agencies should always be tested on their capacity to come up with creative concepts for a publisher’s paid UA campaigns. This way, publishers can clearly assess their level of inventivity and originality. Did they come up with a concept the publisher tested a hundred times already? Or did they suggest a brand new idea with a high potential for success?
Generally, publishers tend to like mobile agencies that think out of the box and come up with ideas they didn’t come across before.
4. Agency cost, location and size
There are hundreds of mobile marketing agencies available online – three differentiating factors are cost, location and size.
The cost of a mobile ad agency will greatly vary depending on its reputation, country location, and pricing strategies. The most successful app publishers will be able to afford top agencies, while smaller publishers may resort to cheaper agencies or even some freelancers on Fiverr.
Also influencing price is the location of the agency. Publishers may decide to use an agency that is close to their headquarters so that they can meet in person regularly – but it is advised not to ignore agencies that are further away as most interactions are entirely digital. As a rule of thumb, agencies based in North America tend to be the most expensive, while agencies based in Central Asia tend to be the cheapest. Publishers may also need agencies specialized in a given market, such as France or Germany, to cover localized ads needs. In a nutshell, companies need to factor in the agency’s location in their decision-making process.
Finally, size is an important element when selecting an agency. Larger agencies, such as Yodel Mobile, often offer full-service app marketing services. Their rates tend to be higher than smaller agencies, but they may also have more experience and deeper expertise. More than one person would be involved as a point of contact for an app publisher – which can be useful in case the publisher is executing larger scale UA campaigns.
5. The agency’s client portfolio
On their websites, most agencies will showcase their clients and the successful campaigns they launched for them. Their clients may be a publisher’s direct competitors. The client portfolio helps build a publisher’s level of confidence in an agency.
If the agency displays customer logos that resonate with the publisher, it’s generally a good sign. A publisher may indeed benefit from the agency’s learnings from another client. Say, if your direct competitor on the app store is Candy Crush, you will be keen to work with an agency that worked with this game, to discover how they helped the mobile game grow to its unprecedented level of success.
6. Agency quotes and comparison
It is not recommended to sign up with an agency without comparing services between mobile agencies. First, publishers should select the agencies that they identified as potential partners, and consolidate briefs and information about them. The best is to get a quote from the agency about all the services they offer. Comparing quotes between different agencies can help evaluate price, service and value. Publishers may also negotiate discounts by putting agencies in competition against each other, for example via a call for proposals.
7. Testing an agency like you would test your app
When a publisher starts working with an agency, they never know how it will go. Companies shouldn’t immediately sign up with an agency in the long term. They need to test the relationship. It is recommended to start with a restrained activity scope, for instance by tasking the agency with the launch of one campaign, or the creation of a few ad creatives.
Based on the initial performance – say, the first 90 days – publishers can really estimate if the agency they contracted matched their expectations. If yes, they can expand the agency’s scope and have them scale creative production and/or paid user acquisition campaigns.
If not, app publishers can finish the relationship sooner without having lost too much money in the process.
Assessing a paid UA agency on their results
Ultimately, agencies will need to prove they positively contributed to a publisher’s business. In the case of creative production or paid UA services, that means reaching marketing KPIs’ targets.
App publishers can define a specific date range for a performance review – say, 90 days (quarterly business reviews) or 180 days. Based on these reviews, publishers may decide to scale up or scale down their activities.
Among the KPIs publishers should assess are:
- Cost per Acquisition (CPA): did the agency help reduce CPA since they’ve been onboarded?
- ROAS (Revenue on Ad Spend): did campaigns’ ROAS go up since the agency was onboarded and by how much?
- Conversion rates: how did the various conversion rates, such as IPM (install per mille), CTR (click-though-rate) or Install rate, evolve since agency onboarding?
- ROI: did ROI metrics such as CAC (customer acquisition cost) and LTV (lifetime value) trend positively since agency onboarding?
Besides, it is important for agencies to share top-level metrics’ growth – such as awareness metrics (how many people did they reach), campaign-level metrics (how successful were they at targeting the “right” audience) or ad spend scaling (how well did they scale the app publishers’ ad spending)?
What is ad spend scaling? Ad spend scaling refers to the process of increasing ad budgets with a view to meeting growth targets, such as customer acquisition targets.
Paid user acquisition in-house versus agencies
Often, there is a prejudice among app publishers that paid user acquisition activities should be either done in-house or via agencies. Instead, publishers should think of agencies as an extended arm of their in-house teams. When working together, internal growth and marketing teams and mobile marketing agencies can produce better results as they will benefit from each other’s knowledge.
App publishers may already have a creative team in-house for ad creatives, who may see the use of an agency selling creative services as a threat to their own work. In fact, in-house creative teams and agencies providing creative services shouldn’t work against each other, but leverage each other’s work and learnings.
For example, Alexander Lubchenko from Nekki told Replai that having both an internal team and an agency working on ad creative can help “keep a healthy competition and motivation of the internal team”.
“We have a creative production with our internal team, and at the same time, we are using agencies for scaling our user acquisition opportunities. They are also busy with new creative concepts and production. In that case, I’m trying to manage these two production centers, using the pros and cons of each of them.“ says Alexander.
Alexander mentioned that his internal team was more focused on higher-quality creative production while the agencies were producing smaller creatives at a faster rate. In that situation, the internal creative teams are able to leverage what the agencies have done and elevate it for longer, better-quality creatives that could also be used outside of paid ads.
Using agencies for concept testing
As an extended part of a publisher’s internal team, agencies are very useful to test new ad concepts. Because they can quickly produce a concept at a cheap rate, they can be used as a “testing” laboratory by internal teams who can build up knowledge about what is working and not working for the app publisher.
For instance, in the case of ad creatives, internal creative teams may be interested in exploring a specific ad concept, such as mixing fictional and real-life characters together in a video. If the test led by the agency happens to be successful, the internal team can take this concept further and see how it can be used in more paid UA campaigns, or applied to other channels.
In order to successfully build a concept testing process, it is recommended to keep the communication flowing between internal and external teams with weekly meetings and ensure feedback is provided on both sides to build a virtuous circle of creative iteration and new ideas generation.
Pros of using agencies for paid user acquisition
In conclusion, app publishers have a big advantage in leveraging agencies for their paid user acquisition strategies. Be it to manage their ad campaigns on the various ad networks, or scale ad creative production, they can tap into knowledge and expertise that their internal teams may not have.
In summary, the advantages of using a mobile agency for paid user acquisition are:
1. Gain expertise quickly
You will benefit from the agency’s past learnings immediately. You can easily build know-how leveraging their in-depth expertise, especially if they’ve worked with customers similar to you.
2. Remain in control
You decide the terms and how you want to work with agencies. You can decide to stop (or expand) the relationship at any point in time. Getting agencies involved isn’t a high risk as the relationship isn’t sealed for the long term. Hence, app publishers’ internal team shouldn’t be afraid of the decision to resort to an agency, on the contrary, they should see agencies as an extended part of their team.
3. Save time and money
Producing creatives in-house, or launching paid campaigns, are time-consuming activities/and when internal teams are short on resources, these activities may be difficult to scale. With agencies, you can produce creatives at a fraction of the cost, which is very useful for creative iteration and ideation.
Similarly, you can build A/B tests for your paid UA campaigns faster.
4. Tap into a creativity pool
By using agencies, you have access to a larger pool of artists and creative thinkers. Agencies will help foster debates about creative concepts and lead discussions on what to create next to optimize user acquisition campaigns.
5. Keep a healthy competition with internal teams
When a virtuous circle between internal teams and agencies is created, healthy competition grows to produce more successful concepts and campaigns for an app or game. Internal teams will be motivated to come up with new ideas to best the agencies’ own concepts. Or in another way, they may get inspired by the agencies’ concepts and iterate on them.