How One Developer Deals With The Cutthroat World Of User Acquisition

AlegriumGrowMobileCompetition in the various app stores is fierce, and app publishers like Indonesia-based gaming developer Alegrium are feeling the burn.

Contending for traffic volume with big developers and brand advertisers, tracking the quality of users by channel and coping with ever-increasing cost-per-install (CPI) rates are what keep Alegrium CMO and GREE vet Jennifer Lin up at night.

That’s why Lin – who alone comprises Algerium’s entire marketing team of one – had to get creative, and aggressive, with her advertising budget to promote two new titles: music trivia casual gaming app “Icon Pop Song 2” and the Sims-like “Billionaire,” Alegrium’s first foray into strategy gaming.

Alegrium was looking for installs and it was looking to improve its iTunes ranking. Bursting was the answer.

Bursting refers to the process of spending a lot of money to boost installs and visibility over a short period of time with the goal of increasing an app’s ranking quickly in key markets, often through incentives and offers. App developers have relied on this method for years, but as competition in the various app stores increases, bursting is becoming de rigueur.

After all, there are more than 1.3 million apps in Apple’s App Store alone, and only a handful are visible above the fold.

“Once the app has visibility in the App Store, we hope to acquire more users organically and hopefully see better quality users, since users acquired via bursting are usually incentivized, or lower-quality users,” Lin said.

Alegrium partnered with app promotion platform GrowMobile, a subsidiary of Israeli performance company Perion, to handle the acquisition.

“Burst campaigns are unique because they’re somewhat counterintuitive,” said Brett Orlanski, VP of business development at GrowMobile. “It’s a bit like the Billboard Top 20 songs or any number list of top products. People gravitate to what’s already popular. You buy installs that you know aren’t the specific users you want in order to gain chart position and hope that helps attain and draw in organic users, which are the more high-quality ones you covet, as opposed to a more sustained direct marketing approach to acquire specific users from the beginning.”

However, that approach is expensive. According to app promo platform Fiksu, cost per install is on the rise, hitting $1.28 on iOS and $1.53 on Android in January.

But that doesn’t mean bursting is the easy option – or for the faint of heart.

“Generally speaking, marketing campaigns are somewhat balanced, with an average daily spend that the marketer paces up or down, depending on a variety of factors. From one day to the next it’s mostly even,” Orlanski said. “But a burst is what it sounds like. Because it only lasts between 24 and 72 hours, the goal is to consume budget for install velocity and chart position and fast and as furious as possible.”

Lin had “aggressively low CPI goals” for her app promos, Orlanski said. “She didn’t want to spend more than was needed, just like everyone else out there.”

GrowMobile targeted iPhone users for both activations across incentivized networks and app discovery channels.

IconPopSong2The eCPI clocked in at $.31 for “Icon Pop Song,” which hit No. 28 in the US free charts and No. 13 in US games. Alegrium bought more than 44,000 paid installs over the course of the two-day burst campaign, resulting in 125,000 installs overall, including paid and organic.

For “Billionaire,” GrowMobile looked to Canada as its testing ground, driving roughly 11,000 paid downloads and 36,000 installs overall. The eCPM was $0.20, and “Billionaire” hit No. 2 on Canada’s free chart within a week of launch.

Canada has become a hugely popular place for developers to test their apps, a sort of sandbox before a bigger US launch. The profile of a Canadian user is quite similar to that of a US prospect.

“It’s a common tactic for developers who are ultimately seeking to release in the US – and it’s actually gotten so bad now that CPIs in Canada are actually higher than in the US,” Orlanski quipped.

Although burst campaigns can generate solid results, as in the Alegrium examples, the party usually doesn’t last, at least in terms of app store rankings.

“In a perfect world, a burst campaign would get an app to the top of the chart, everyone would fall in love with it and the developer would be able to generate enough organic, free installs from there, which would ultimately allow them to naturally retain their new position,” Orlanski said. “But what’s more likely to happen is that, because of the nature of the competition and the algorithms in the App Store and any number of other factors that only Apple knows, you’ll start to drift down, maybe even just hours after bursting into your chart position. It’s pretty brutal.”

Although Orlanski said he usually counsels developers not to burn through 100% of their budget on a burst – rather to spend a large portion, perhaps 50% or 60% on the burst and the remainder on sustaining – it’s becoming more of a common practice among certain developers to rely solely on a burst, as Alegrium did for “Icon Pop Song 2” and “Billionaire.”

It’s risky, but it can work well, especially for smaller casual apps with short use life cycles. In that case, there’s no real rationale for sustained spending.

“There are three ways to get to the top of the App Store: One is if a celebrity tweets about one of your apps, which is out of your control. The second is if Apple decides to feature you, which is also out of your control. And the third is to burst into the ranks,” Orlanski said. “Of the three main ways to get in front of people, that’s the only one that’s within your control.”

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