At the dawn of 2016, mobile app developers have a problem that from the outside may not seem like much of a problem. A little under a decade after the iPhone hit the market and kicked off the smartphone revolution, there are an ever increasing number of consumers spending an ever expanding amount of time using mobile phone apps. And those consumers are reachable on a consistently expanding number of social, search and commerce platforms.
Admittedly, a pile of potential customers hungry for content and reachable at an infinitude of digital nodes sounds like a high class problems for app developers to have. And it would, but for two issues.
The first is app discovery. Customers may spend a lot of time looking at their phone apps, but they don’t really diversify that time all that much.
“Discovery remains a major issue for app developers. We found that consumers spend an estimated 80 percent of their mobile time in apps, but 75 percent of that time is spent in the Top 4 apps,” Anthony Chavez, group product manager of mobile ads at Google, told PYMNTS in an interview.
And reaching those consumers — and convincing them to promote an app into the elite Top 4 where users spend the bulk of their mobile minutes — is always made easier by the proliferation of available digital channels for promotion, because with all those options, come lots of choices.
Choices that app developers (particularly small ones that have a much stronger background in technology innovation and marketing strategy) are not exactly ideally suited to make out of the gate. One option is the sawed-off shotgun approach where lots of channels are tried and effects are measured, but such an exercise can be costly both in terms of time and the employees who have to monitor the channels and dollars.
Google decided it could streamline this process for developers listing apps in the Play Store through the introduction of Universal App Campaigns (UAC), a program designed to allow developers to leverage Google to connect their apps to the right users, essentially by empowering Google to create their app campaigns end-to-end.
So what does it mean for Google to generate a developer’s entire campaign, and how well does it work?
Populating A Campaign Across The Google Ecosystem
At base, UAC offers app developers with limited marketing time and a limited budget to created a targeted, customized campaign in a fairly plug and play way.
“With Universal App Campaigns, we wanted to harness Google’s power to match intent and context, and deliver that capability to developers,” Chavez explained. “Just provide a link to your Play Store listing, some creative and a budget, and we will automatically generate your entire campaign.”
Once developers have entered in that data, the magic of Google’s learning algorithms takes over.
“Universal app ads are generated on the fly by our system to fit the most relevant ad inventory and placements available,” Google’s website notes.
And those placements can be across the Google properties, including the Search Network (search, play store, search partners), YouTube and The Google display network. The system then decides how and when to place ads based on where its data indicates the app will maximize the app’s downloads. Changes to display location and content are made in real time as the algorithms respond to data about clicks and downloads.
AdWords can use your app’s listing in Google Play, any of the four lines of text that you provide, images and an optional YouTube video to build your ads. The system rotates your ads and adjusts bids automatically to get the most downloads for your app. For example, if one line of text is performing better than another, the system will show the better text more often.
The system has been online for a little over 7 months, which means the obvious question merits asking.
Does it work?
Acorns And UAC: A Match Made In (Digital) Heaven
“We’ve seen extremely good performance and been very pleasantly surprised out how quickly it started showing results,” Sami Khan, Head of Marketing at Acorns, told PYMNTS.
Acorns is a small firm with a big idea about how it can change the face of investing for the everyday.
The problem, Khan notes, is most people treat investing as something to be done after they’ve amassed a large quantity of disposable income, meaning that most people either get started investing very late in life — or never really get started at all.
Acorns wants to make getting started easier by automating it. The app ties into a user’s bank account and essentially collects the “spare change” in their debit or credit transactions, meaning it would round a $17.77 purchase to an even $18 and drop the 33 cents into a consumer investment account.
Spare change may not seem like the best way for someone to become the next Warren Buffett — but, Khan noted, the funny thing about investing is that time can make all the difference in the outcome.
“We don’t believe anyone can beat the market, the key here is to track the market and invest regularly,” Khan noted, saying if the team at Acorns knew how to beat the market, they would close up shop and live off their extreme wealth. But, he said, the point is that one doesn’t actually have to beat the market to profit from investing in it.
“From acorns do grow mighty oaks. These old-school investment companies have these major sounding names, so we figured start small and grow steadily, and someday you become an oak. When money is tied to the market there potential risks, but there is also a potential gain. The money you put in a saving account won’t really go anywhere, but with investing you give it a chance to grow over time, especially over the long run.”
However, getting customers to the long run is tough when one is a new financial services company where getting to scale is a more immediate priority. From the word “go” in 2014, when the firm launched its iOS and Android apps, the marketing team was a small and lean part of the business.
This meant that like many startups with an app to market, it turned to social media channels, which in its earlier days was a fine strategy.
“What we did like on the social channels is that people were vetting it out with each other,” Kahn noted. “They used the comment section pretty heavily, and if they had questions we could answer them.”
However, as the firm is moving out its early startup phase, it was looking for more — and also how to do more without necessarily working a whole lot more, since the marketing department was still pretty lean and not looking to spend a lot of time doing AB testing to check which digital channels were providing them the best bang for their buck.
But after signing up for UAC, they were pleasantly surprised to find out they didn’t have to — the service did most of that work for them.
“IT was as close to plug and play as I can imagine,” Kahn noted. “We’ve also seen extremely good performance, there are days that UAC does half the cost per install when compared to social channels; it’s a very large difference.”
Kahn also noted that the use of UAC had caused Acorns to take a second look at a platform that it had previously written off: YouTube. Google’s efforts placing their content on YouTube did much better.
So what’s next?
For Acorns, the goal is to continue building out — and creating a content platform on financial responsibility.
For Google, the hope for UAC includes increased granularity in their partner’s view of the result for their content — with an eye toward keeping the system plug and play.
And, of course, improving their search algorithms so that content is best matched across the platform — but if it is a day that ends in a “y,” we probably could have assumed Google was working on the search algorithms.