One of the questions I frequently hear asked is 'why now?'

In other words:

'Sure, I get that this stuff matters, and I understand that sooner or later we need to think carefully about the user experience and in-app marketing. But can’t it wait? Right now I am busy building out the app and acquiring users. Let’s get that sorted first before I worry about ‘nice to have’ marketing automation'

It isn’t much of a surprise to hear that view expressed. After all, since man first emerged from the dark ages and realised that people would buy things online, we’ve been in the grips of ‘acquisition fever’. Getting new users to the site was everything. A string of e-business failures was the result.

Here’s the deal: everything about this model is completely wrong-headed. And it’s even more wrong-headed when it comes to the app world. Why? Because in the app world, you don’t get a second chance. Do you really think that a user burned once by your app is going to go back and have another go after finding an alternative way to book a flight or order take out? No chance.

So if you are spending money to bring users to the app and don’t have confidence in your ability to monetize those users, NOW, you are heading for disaster.

The Lesson From Games

There is precisely one exception to this lunacy when it comes to the mobile app ecosystem. And it won’t surprise you to know it is the vertical that knows more about success on mobile (and has learned more hard lessons along the way). That vertical is free-to-play games.

We’ve worked with some of the biggest and most successful games companies in the world. Nobody has a more sophisticated understanding of how mobile works, and there is one rule that almost without exception, they all follow:

Never spend acquisition dollars until you are certain your title effectively retains and monetizes users

That stands to reason of course, but sometimes it is tough to live by. After all, in some cases what this effectively means is killing off a title that may be a creative success, and certainly viewed with fondness in the company. But that’s the way it works - without making tough decisions like these you’ll be spending big money on titles that can never deliver ROI.

As with all decisions, of course, that requires data. And in this case, the data is supplied by running the game during a trial period, rapid A/B testing of all relevant variables and campaigns, and then reaching an understanding about whether the title can or cannot deliver ROI. They need to answer the question: does the revenue that can be delivered by this title merit the proposed spend on acquisition?

Getting The Right Way Up

Outside of games, of course, nobody - or almost nobody - does this. That’s why digital businesses so often resemble short-lived comets - all sound and fury one day, the next somewhere beneath the horizon and a distant memory.

If you don’t want to be one of them, there’s a couple of simple steps you can take - and they don’t have to mean turning off acquisition entirely. Firstly, if it is a possibility, always look to test first before launch and acquisition spend. That testing should include both the app experience itself, but also the campaigns (such as push notifications or in-app messages) that are delivered to individual users. You need to know that when you turn on the acquisition tap, all those new mobile users aren't just like water into a leaky sieve.

But even if you are already live, understand that the time to optimize experience for those in the app is NOW. There isn’t a second chance in the mobile app space, so acquiring users only to lose them is not an option. Don’t become another expensive failure - turn your mobile business the right way round!