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How to market an app in 2021: lessons from mobile leaders


May 20, 2021

How To Market An App In 2021: Lessons From Mobile Leaders

Ten years ago, the novelty of launching a branded app was enough to gain an audience. Today, the space is far more competitive. To establish a mobile presence, brands need a complete marketing strategy that scales easily and keeps users engaged with your intended experience. The good news is your brand isn’t the first to find itself in this position. In this article, we’ll examine some of the most prominent modern success stories — including Airbnb, Instacart, Tinder, and Uber — to better understand how to market an app in 2021.

How to market an app in 2021

Cultivate and reward early adoption

Forge high-value partnerships

Understand your audience

Treat the app experience as a marketing experience

Bring your marketing in-house

Cultivate and reward early adoption

Whatever your app category, launch windows are a crucial time to acquire an audience that can sustain long-term growth. Gaining this level of adoption is far from guaranteed. Marketers need to cultivate early adoption and leverage it during this period to generate goodwill. One excellent case study is Uber, which used a combination of early adopter advocacy and loyalty rewards to drive interest.

Uber’s strategy was to generate interest by initially targeting the Silicon Valley area. The rideshare company hosted a series of sponsored events to introduce itself, offering free trials to influencers who shared the experience with their audiences. By the time Uber was ready for its official app launch, early adopter interest was sky-high.

Generating this word-of-mouth buzz was only the first step. Next, Uber launched in-app promotions that appealed to new and existing users:

  • First-time discounts: New Uber customers created many avenues for first-time promotional discounts, whether through partner promotions or simply registering for the first time. These coupons reduced the barrier of entry for new users, convincing many to become regular riders.
  • Loyalty rewards: Uber Rewards tied user loyalty to the many services under Uber’s brand. With each ride, customers earned points to spend on future rides or delivery services like Uber Eats. High spenders who used UberX or Uber Black gained additional points, rewarding them and encouraging retention.
  • Referral programs: Uber’s best marketing techniques leveraged the loyalty of existing customers. Referral programs are a great example — every rider could access a personal recommendation code and distribute it to friends and family. When someone used this code, the referring rider earned rewards they can redeem on future rides and Uber services.

For more early adoption lessons, take a look at The Uber Marketing Strategy Unpacked: 6 Lessons For Rideshare App Marketers.

Forge high-value partnerships

One of the best ways to develop customer trust and goodwill is to forge high-value business partnerships. Wherever possible, these relationships should take the form of digital integrations of each party’s platform. Uber helped pioneer this technique through an association with Hilton Worldwide that allowed hotel guests to request rides — and earn Hilton reward points — through the chain’s loyalty app.

Few other two-market app solutions adopted this lesson with greater success than Instacart. The online food delivery app partnered with over 300 retailers, including Costco, Sam’s Club, and Loblaw, integrating its service with their apps and websites. This action gave Instacart unprecedented visibility among competitors. When customers logged in, they trusted the suddenly available delivery options from their favorite grocery stores and supermarkets. In turn, each retailer gained access to an established e-commerce infrastructure without needing to invest in an in-house delivery platform.

Instacart gained a massive windfall with these integrations in place when the COVID-19 pandemic went global in early 2020. As retail customers overwhelmingly turned to online delivery, these partnerships increased Instacart’s orders by 500% within a single month. While the platform still needed to scale to meet this demand, the opportunity simply wouldn’t have been possible had the company not already established so many high-value professional connections.

To find out more about Instacart’s scalable techniques, visit our complete Instacart Advertising Strategy guide.

Understand your audience

Every app needs to approach its audience a little differently. Consider what user retention means to a dating app like Tinder, where every match that leads to a long-term relationship removes two customers. But if a dating app only markets itself for casual dating, it can miss out on other audiences.

Tinder’s solution was to analyze its churn data and develop a better understanding of its own users. As a result, it gained insights into three different user segments:

  1. Users who match and begin an exclusive relationship,
  2. Users who match for casual dates,
  3. Users who experienced some kind of technical problem that prevented a satisfactory match.

By understanding these customer types, Tinder can optimize its remarketing strategies far more effectively. The first group is unlikely to return in the short term, but the second and third may respond to different messaging. For example, users who couldn’t find an appealing match might respond to personalized ads showing how many people have joined the app since their last visit.

For marketers, the challenge here is understanding customers enough to segment them by value. With the right data-driven insights, it’s possible to target any audience with personalized and relevant messaging that meets their individual needs.

For more information on the dating industry’s unique challenges, take a look at The Tinder Marketing Strategy Unpacked: 4 Lessons for Dating App Marketers.

Treat the app experience as a marketing experience

App design is as much a part of the marketing experience as any creative element, so it’s vital to consider how your app communicates its intended experience. Airbnb’s brand messaging, for example, is about making guests feel welcome anywhere — as though they have a home away from home. The Airbnb app reflects this tone with an intuitively comfortable UI. Even its typeface is warm and inviting, which helps ensure the app itself is recognizable at a glance.

Airbnb’s welcoming tone is also apparent in how it connects ad creative with in-app services. The best example is “deep linking” — adding unique identifiers to mobile ads that direct users to in-app locations. Clicking on an Airbnb ad for New York listings will take you directly to New York listings in Airbnb. Not only does this help customers find the right listing, but it also enhances the app experience and cuts unnecessary steps from the marketing funnel — reducing the chances that users will churn elsewhere.

For a deeper understanding of promoting online rental marketplaces, read our complete guide, The Airbnb Marketing Strategy: Helping Guests Feel Right at Home.

Bring your digital marketing in-house

For the past decade, many startups launching a new app opted to let third-party agencies manage their programmatic marketing. This decision may seem reasonable on the surface — it’s more cost-effective than hiring internal ad experts and saves the time and effort of learning about the media buying landscape. In practice, however, third-party agencies represent a lack of control over your user acquisition strategy. Sadly, far too many agencies aren’t transparent about media buying practices, limiting the insights marketers require to make strategic decisions. That’s not something companies can afford in 2021, which is why many brands now bring their marketing in-house.

Taking direct control of programmatic advertising may feel overwhelming, but it’s perfectly feasible with the right partner. At Moloco Cloud, we offer a transparent self-serve platform that helps you acquire users at scale and remarket to high-value segments — all while hitting your ROAS targets. Get in touch with us to find out how marketing your apps is easier than ever before.



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