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What Is User Acquisition?

User acquisition is the process of using data-driven mobile ad campaigns. It is used to build awareness for apps, platforms, or services and capture new users. Unlike traditional advertising or campaigns that nurture leads at various stages, user acquisition campaigns are designed to convert right away.

Most app developers’ user acquisition strategies focus largely or entirely on social media channels. Tools that are native to Facebook and Google App Campaign—along with supplementary tools available through third parties—can automate and streamline many aspects of a user acquisition campaign.


How Does User Acquisition Work?

A user acquisition campaign is a continuous loop of data analysis, creative ideation, and testing. No two advertisers’ strategies are alike, but they all follow the same basic steps.


Identify Potential Users

The first step is to identify prospects who are most likely to convert. They could include both existing customers and users of similar market offerings. Prospects could be in a narrowly defined geographic range or worldwide. Or, they could be Android and/or iOS users. In addition, they might meet certain criteria for how much they’ve spent in a program or app, the actions they’ve taken, or the milestones they’ve reached in the past day, for all time, or for any length of time in between.

Generally speaking, user acquisition efforts should target users who are the most active, have passed certain milestones (meaning they’re more invested in a program or app), and are among the highest-value purchasers.

Create Target Audiences

The next step is to build custom and lookalike audiences. They should be based on precise data points, data ranges (the top X%, for example), and various combinations of criteria. Custom audiences, which include current customers, are used for cross-selling initiatives. Lookalike audiences are users of similar offerings who’ve met certain activity or spending thresholds in those programs or apps.

The total number of custom and lookalike audiences will vary from one user acquisition campaign to the next. Advertisers might use hundreds or thousands of audiences to test and tweak creative concepts. How these audiences are defined is critically important to campaign success.

Deploy and Fine-Tune Creative

Once target audiences have been defined, it’s time to deploy high-quality creative across select ad types and channels. Although most ads (roughly 19 out of 20) will fall short of user acquisition campaign goals, a single ad can drive huge gains.

Using quantitative creative testing, a systematic process that reveals which ads are winning and why, advertisers can maximize their ad spend by sticking with concepts that work while testing simple variations (colors, fonts, photos, layout, etc.). Quantitative creative testing is essential to keeping campaigns fresh and accelerating user volume growth.


Why Is Mobile User Acquisition Important?

Across the globe, more than 2.7 billion smartphones and 1.35 billion tablets are currently in use. The average user spends hours per day checking for social media updates and interacting with digital apps. Mobile user acquisition campaigns are uniquely valuable because they meet consumers where they are, in a digital environment they’ve created for themselves.


It Drives Conversions With Ease

Social media platforms offer advertisers a wealth of user data, enabling ultra-precise targeting. From the consumer’s perspective, downloading an app on a mobile device is effortless. Also, there is almost no downside when an uninstall can happen just as easily. Mobile user acquisition campaigns not only have a lower threshold to meet, but also deliver an immediate payoff.

It’s Cost-Effective

Cost per install (CPI), the most basic customer acquisition cost (CAC) for a mobile user acquisition campaign, is significantly lower than the cost of acquiring new customers through other advertising channels. Recent industry changes have driven mobile advertisers’ costs even lower.

In 2018, Facebook and Google App Campaigns introduced machine-learning algorithms that can take over basic user acquisition campaign functions and automate workflows. This was a big plus for user acquisition managers. Not only do small, medium, and large advertisers have more time to devote to creative development and testing, but they can also drive up app installs and profits with reduced advertising spend.

It Offers Unmatched Visibility Into Campaign Performance

Mobile user acquisition offers another big advantage: deep, detailed visibility into users’ in-app activity. Advertisers can go beyond user volume to gauge user quality and value. This also allows them to adjust campaigns and shift advertising spend on social media platforms that deliver more active, higher-purchasing users.

What Are the Challenges of Mobile User Acquisition?

Pulling off a successful mobile user acquisition campaign requires a high degree of agility, bandwidth, and expertise. Advertisers benefit most from having a strong creative partner that works as an extension of their internal user acquisition campaign management team.


A Saturated Marketplace

Every new mobile app that goes to market must compete with dozens of existing alternatives of varying quality—out of millions of available apps across Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon app stores. It’s tough enough to break through the clutter and distinguish an app in this environment; one poor review in the app store could easily spell doom.

A Shifting Landscape

Between new devices and changing user preferences, app developers can’t afford a moment’s rest. As a result, a state-of-the-art app could be obsolete by the time it launches. Similarly, user acquisition best practices that worked six months ago could be costly mistakes today.

Creative Fatigue

For many forms of advertising, repetition is the key to success. When it comes to mobile user acquisition campaigns, however, repetition drains ad performance and advertisers’ budgets. So, users will start to tune out a mobile ad they’ve seen too many times. Usually within days of the ad’s launch.

To combat creative fatigue and ensure an efficient ad spend, advertisers must have the capacity to generate and test new ads on a regular basis. However, small and midsize companies used to be at a severe disadvantage on this front. They had limited or no access to quality creative services. Fortunately, tiered managed services (introduced January 2019) have eliminated barriers by lowering the cost of creative at scale.

Common User Acquisition Channels

Each user acquisition channel has distinct advantages and requirements. Users of these platforms have varying expectations as well. All of these variables should factor in UA campaign planning.

  • Facebook
  • Google App Campaigns (formerly Google UAC)
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Pinterest


Examples of Successful User Acquisition Strategies

A well-executed user acquisition strategy can simultaneously lower mobile advertisers’ CAC costs, increase user volume, and accelerate growth. Here are three classic examples.


Sun Basket


Sun Basket, a subscription-based food service, began its user acquisition campaign on Facebook and Instagram with specific weekly growth goals and cost per acquired customer (CAC) targets. It was able to increase its subscriber base by 447%. Sun Basket achieved this by using hundreds of original images and videos and real-time data analysis. It also raised its monthly acquisition volume by 546% (surpassing its original goal). And was able to drive CAC down by 42%.




Car financing company AutoGravity had three main objectives for its user acquisition campaign: reduce its mobile app install cost, reduce its cost per applicant (CPI), and scale volume within Facebook advertising. Mobile app install ads on Facebook and Instagram were shown to over 30 custom and lookalike audiences. They included over 175 images, 15 carousels, 12 videos, and dozens of ad variations. The campaign grew customer applications by 62% and lowered the company’s CPI by 41%.




Casual game developer PlayStudios had big plans for its MyVegas Slots and Konami Slots games, along with high hopes for its ROAS. A successful UA campaign on Facebook and Instagram did not disappoint. Also, thanks to high-quality creative at scale and automated workflows via AdRules, PlayStudios realized a 12.2% increase in ROAS, a 46% drop in CPI, and a 268% increase in installs.


How to Execute a User Acquisition Campaign

User acquisition campaigns are complex and fast-moving. Internal marketing teams can’t do it all. So they need the right tools, as well as expert benchmarking and capabilities. Consequently, this will drive efficiency and growth in a powerful, sustained way.

what is user acquisition




Read our blog post, UA Media Buying Model, and see how it works in tandem with our Ad Concept Model. Learn the media buying best practice strategies for Facebook Android, Facebook iOS SKAN, Google, and TikTok.

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