Launching a new free-to-play mobile app campaign can be difficult if you’re starting completely from scratch. That’s because most resources about how to do user acquisition on mobile app campaign with Facebook and Google App Campaigns assume two things:

  1. That you already have an account history that you can leverage
  2. That you have a customer list that you can use to create lookalike audiences

So, what should you do if don’t have this in place? What if your user lists and advertising accounts are brand new? This article will go into detail about where you would begin this process, and how it can help your new mobile app campaign become successful.

How to Launch a Mobile App Campaign

Do a Competitive Analysis

Competitive analyses are quite simple on Facebook. If you head over to the Facebook page of any of your competitors, you can click “Info and Ads” at the bottom of the left column. This will lead you to a list of all the ads they’ve run.

When looking at these ads, it is important to take note of any trends:

  • Color Schemes: Bold colors? Muted colors? The same colors?
  • Text Placement: We’ve found that text in the top third of the image or video works best.
  • Images of People: Kids? Women? Men? Do they have a character or a celebrity in their ads?
  • Video Ads: Are they using this kind of ad and if they are, what type of video ads? Brand in motion? Benefit in motion? What is the length of the ads?
  • Call-to-Actions: Which CTAs do they use most often?

If you answer these questions across a grouping of selected advertisers, you’ll likely begin to see a few similarities, which should be documented and monitored over time. This shouldn’t be the final word on how your ads will look, but it will give you an idea of what’s working for your competitors and what could potentially work for your ads.

There are also a number of tools that can provide you with a robust database of current and past ads running on Facebook, Google and display networks:

  1. Social Ad Scout 
  2. Connect Explore

These tools can help you identify high-performing ads; reducing the risk of your ads’ failure rate and minimizing non-converting spend that might be created by testing unproven concepts.

These tools can help you identify high-performing ads; reducing the risk of your ads’ failure rate and minimizing non-converting spend that might be created by testing unproven concepts.


Utilize Facebook Best Practices

Before 2018, we were running hundreds of campaigns with super-tight audience targeting. Now, because of the changes to customer acquisition on Facebook and Google, advertisers spending less than $1 million per month tend to run fewer campaigns (50 or so) with broad audience targeting, which gives the algorithms free rein to find the best potential consumers.

We also used to make dozens of changes to bids, budgets, and pause rules daily. But after February 2018, when Facebook switched over to its new “Best Practices” rules, that had to change. All of a sudden, campaigns performed better if we took a step back from intensive ad set management; allowing the algorithm to do its magic.


Choose the Right Campaign Goals

Now, Facebook and Google App Campaigns allow algorithms to manage more aspects of advertisers’ campaigns. This being said, for the algorithms to properly do their job, you still need to give them the right targets: The right campaign goals.

For free-to-play apps, you’ll want to start with Mobile App Install (MAI) ads, transition to App Events, and ultimately make the switch to Value bidding.


Mobile App Install Ads

As an advertiser of a new free-to-play app, or any new product for that matter, we recommended using Mobile App Installs as your campaigns’ first goal because the ad format allows individuals to install a new app in just a few clicks. This can get you quality installs; helping you to build a user base as well as accrue data on your most valuable users.


App Events Ads

Once you have tested Mobile App Installs for a week or two and have gained at least 5,000-10,000 installs, you can begin the transition to a new campaign optimization goal: App Events (AEO). This will help to target in-app purchases.


Value Bidding Ads

After your campaign has accrued enough AEO optimization data (usually between 750 to 1,000 purchases) you’ll finally be able to do value bidding (VO). Value bidding lets you target the “whales” of your user base—the people who spend, for example, $19.99, instead of the people who just spend $0.99.

If you pair this value bidding with how Facebook lets you define custom audiences with lifetime value data, you can really dial into exactly who your highest value users are—and then let the algorithm go find them.


Algorithms, Campaign Goals & ROI

It will take some time for the algorithm to figure out where your ideal users are. This being said, it’s possible to receive a 10% ROI in seven days from a mobile app campaign—but you have to be patient for those seven days. If you change too much about the campaign by pausing it or changing the budget by 30% or more, you’ll trigger a “substantial edit”, which will shift your campaign back into learning mode. This usually increases CPMs by as much as 30%.

As you progress through these different goals, you should anticipate paying more. Value Bidding conversions typically cost two to three times more than App Events, and App Events tend to cost two to three times as much as App Installs. It’s important to not focus on the additional costs, and instead focus on the return you are getting. Here’s why:

Say your value of average download is about 75 cents—which includes your entire paid user base; even the users who never make in-app purchases. 

If your average value of in-app purchases is $3.00, you can easily afford to spend two or three times more for an App Event; targeting that average purchase price. 75 cents times two is $1.50; 75 cents times three is $2.25—these are still very much below the $3.00 value of an average in-app purchase. You are essentially paying $1.50 to $2.25 for a $3.00 value.

That’s why Value Bidding is so powerful, and why you shouldn’t worry about paying more for higher-quality, higher-value conversions.


Minimize Audience Saturation & Creative Fatigue

By the time you’ve gotten to Value Bidding, your campaigns will have been running for a few weeks, and you’ll probably be profitable. So, you’ll want to scale your spending. The problem is, this is typically where the complications of creative fatigue and audience saturation begin. As you start increasing your budget, you’ll start burning through audiences faster. As more people see your ads more frequently, they will start ignoring your older ads. These ads will start to fade and become an ambient element in comparison to all the others on the page.

High-budget campaigns regularly wear out creative within four to five days. This, unfortunately, is a consequence of spending more. Sadly, this is a bit of a problem for social advertisers, because creative is expensive—and successful creative (the type of creative you need to beat competitors and keep your KPIs looking good) is even more expensive.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of ads we have created and tested, only 5% of new creative passes the success of the old control. This is why it is crucial to create and test twenty or more pieces of ad creative—to find the one ad that outperforms the others.

Winning Facebook creative is so valuable. Now that algorithms manage many aspects of campaigns, creative is the best differentiator that social advertisers have. This is why it is so important to maximize the lifespan of creative assets.


The Importance of Creating Large Enough Seed Audiences

The key to maximizing the lifespan of ad creative is to extract every possible new user out of every possible audience. To do this, you need to generate at least  3,000 new users, although 7,500 is more preferable. 7,500 new users are enough to create quality lookalike audiences; any less than that, and the customer acquisition strategy will not be as impactful.

Having a good-sized seed audience, as well as knowledge of how to split and divide your audiences carefully and systematically enough really helps to extend the life of a piece of ad creative. This exercise is so profitable that we have built a tool to do it—called Audience Builder. It makes creating dozens (or even hundreds) of targeted audiences super simple.


Final Thoughts About Your Mobile App Campaign

Launching a new free-to-play mobile app takes a bit of patience and a significant amount of money. This being said, Facebook ads shouldn’t be leaking money.

If you utilize data from a competitive analysis to launch with strong creative and shift through different campaign goals—from mobile app installs to app events and then to value bidding—you can minimize how quickly you are burning through your budget. Once your campaigns are running, you can get more value from your creative by creating lookalike audiences. This still allows the algorithms to find new users, but it will segment different populations in a way that leaves no cracks unsealed.

Maximizing these audiences is crucial to profitability because it can take 20 or more new pieces of creative to find the one ad that will outperform your control. This amount of ad creative tends to be very expensive; so when you find that high-performing ad, it’s essential to squeeze every possible conversion out of it.

By utilizing all these methodologies, it’s absolutely possible to be profitable with a brand-new mobile app.

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