Inside the App Monetization Workshop


Leadbolt had a great afternoon attending the recent App Developer Alliance App Strategy Workshop in Santa Monica, where mobile industry thought leaders gathered to exchange ideas and strategies about making money from apps.  From getting your first 10,000 downloads on a budget, and the science of mobile video ads, to perspectives on maximizing app revenue, here are our Cliffs Notes to the discussion, with the key takeaways that truly resonated with us:

Jake Ward, President and CEO of Apps Alliance delivered great truisms for early stage start-up app development companies in his welcoming remarks.  Ideas we love:

Stay nimble, folks:

“Pivot is the most common side effect to start-up CEO feve

– Jake Ward, President and CEO, Apps Alliance

Respect and appreciate your team:

“Treat your team like co-founders, because they are.

They share the vision and work to make it happen.”

– Jake Ward, President and CEO, Apps Alliance

If you want to build something great, don’t ask for a show of hands:

“If I asked people what they wanted,

they would have said ‘faster horses’.”

 – Henry Ford

Developers are responsible for both creating the app and managing a business.  Know what you’re getting into, and know that it won’t be easy:

“I have an idea for an app.”


“I have an idea for a business.”

– Jake Ward, Apps Alliance


Getting Your First 10,000 Downloads on a Budget, (aka Growth Hacking)

The most successful developers are getting serious about data.  Why? Data is key to the LTV (lifetime value) of your programs.  Successful app developers will be thinking of how to make money from the user from Day 1.  Don’t wait for the next level or stage of your business to figure it out.  Remember, this is a business.  Deciding how to monetize your app after launch is never as good as having a strategy and organized structure in place from the beginning.

Tracking the right metrics plays an important role in the growth of your app:

Free-to-Play (F2P) Games, take note:   Understand who is coming to your app, where they are coming from, and how they are making you money.  Using a measurement tool inside your app is the first step to acquiring this data and that data turning into actionable knowledge.

Not everyone who downloads your app is a “user”.  Take a look at specific metrics such as:

  • Sessions
  • Session lengths
  • Overall category performance
  • Retention rate

Each app is different, with its own way of working, and with varying growth goals and desired user profiles, so do spend time identifying which factors are the priority and track the metrics that matter.

Examples of how different apps might track different metrics:

An app like Snapchat might track DAUs (daily active users), while a dinner reservation app might be looking more closely at MAUs (Monthly active users).

Game apps might focus on ROI and segment their targeting by user engagement levels.

Finance apps might focus on session length and other data to identify the subset of users who are spending the most time in their app.

Tip:  A small team must focus.  While it’s tempting to want to track everything, pick the few metrics you feel are the most important, and hit it out of the park.  Once you find the strategy that works, then scale up.


Tap into Super-Fan Communities:

Does your app align with or tap into pocket communities that exist online?  For example, let’s say you have a Hard-Core game that relates to wrestling.  Super Fans of a topic or subject (in this case, wrestling organizations like WWE, WWF, UFC, or Super Fans of specific wrestling celebrities, or even Super Fans of an existing app title, etc.) might be found online in forums and communities such as Reddit and Tumbler.  These online environments could be a good way to reach relevant audiences, contact them, and make them fans of your app.

Next, build “Look-alike” profiles to find similar users.

Some small studios are Licensing IP.  For example, a small studio might license Mohamed Ali to appeal to a huge fan following.  In turn, the game app gets favored and featured.

Your first 10,000 users can come from a variety of tactics:  QR codes, incentivized downloads, even passing out promotional literature.


The Science of Mobile Video Ads

First, a little Tough Love:  All roads lead back to the topic of making money.

The reality is that if you can’t make money from your app, investors won’t feel confident giving you money either.  The working capital you have will eventually need to be replenished in a sustainable way.

Sure, everyone wants to “go viral”, but you need a way to acquire users.  User acquisition takes money, which means you have to first generate money.

You’ll need to uncover the answers to these questions:

  • What’s a user cost?
  • What’s a user worth?

That way, you’ll know how much you can spend to acquire a new user.

Okay, Tough Love portion is over.  Let’s talk about placement of ads inside your app:

Ad placement is not arbitrary.  It should be based on tracking data (retention rates) and user behavior in your app (levels completed, session length, etc.).  Don’t just put a full-length auto-play video ad at app launch! Allow the user to engage in your app first, before you hit them with an ad.  Let them cycle through the app experience so they are wedded to the content.  Understand (via data) how much content a user needs to see before exposure to an ad so they don’t drop off.

Tip:  Know the difference between an incentivized ad vs. an incentivized download.  Some App stores actually ban the incentivized download experience, while an incentivized view is one of the best value-exchange experiences!


Maximizing App Revenue

Allowing ads inside your app, as well as promoting your app as an advertiser can grow your business.

Don’t think of in-app ads as a binary decision:  Do I allow ads or not; IAPs or not?  You can do both.  Just be vigilant about testing, and know that execution is everything.

You’d be wise to understand your user first, and don’t get in the way of their end goal.

For Advertisers Building Creative Assets:

In the olden days, you’d shoot still images or video footage that could be repurposed into various ad formats (billboards, online, etc.).  The paradigm has shifted, and it’s tougher to re-purpose creative assets to suite a larger variety of media experiences.

When developing creative assets, build in all formats.  This planning will be especially helpful when preparing campaigns that are endemic to the user experience and consistent with specific use-cases.

Creating an entire immersive experience is important, not just relying on one particular ad format.  For example, in addition to creating a mobile video ad, you may want to build out display ads, native ads, roadblocks, and other media types.  Think about the holistic media plan before shooting content to make sure you meet the conditions and format specifications of all media types, especially the mobile ad formats.  Consider :15 seconds vs :30 seconds; horizontal layout and vertical/portrait orientation, sound vs no sound, VR, and anything else that may be needed down the line.

What about Location / LBS?

Location is a powerful targeting parameter and ad-serving tool for delivering a campaign that is local, offers a personal experience and for a sense of immediacy.  Location is especially useful when paired with context but keep in mind that leveraging location data is use-case specific.  For example, if a user is using Waze app to drive to Starbucks, then accessing location data to deliver a coupon to Startbucks is a great campaign execution example.  However, using location data is less relevant for someone who is playing a game app.  Is there a benefit to knowing where someone is playing the game?  Bottom line:  Only ask for permissions that you need in order to make the ad relevant.

Source: Thank you to the participants of this thoughtful panel, whose ideas were covered in this blog post. Click HERE to access the complete workshop agenda and panel participants.

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