9 App Growth Strategies and the Benefits of Working With an App Marketing Agency
Fouad Saeidi made his start in mobile marketing over 10 years ago, back when the App Store was still new and mobile marketing best practices were in their infancy. “The first app job that I had was for a gaming startup,” Fouad explains. “We were a publisher bringing games from overseas and publishing them globally. My foundation really started there.”
Fouad went on to work for Sage, a publicly traded enterprise software company with over 10,000 employees and hundreds of published apps. Fouad points to this experience as the reason why he wanted to start his own app marketing agency. “I worked with a lot of different stakeholders in cross-functional teams – product marketing, product management, brand, and creative. Down the road I realized there’s a lack of consistency in the go-to-market strategy, from launch, to rollout, to growth – so I wanted to make a bigger impact for different apps and support that full journey.”
When Fouad branched out to start App Guardians, he tells the story about how he hustled to land one of his first clients, Relax Melodies (now BetterSleep). Fouad met Relax Melodies’ founder, Simon Bérubé, at a Montreal tech conference on just a few hours of sleep after an overnight flight. “They were an established app with fifty million downloads back then, and it took about two months of me helping them out with some early decisions before finally landing them as one of our first few contracts,” Fouad explains, describing some of the early work he did. “Companies at that size are thinking about what can be done to make a 5% difference, or make an incremental impact that could potentially lead to an exit down the road.” As it did for Relax Melodies, a foundational marketing strategy that focuses on incremental growth could really pay off. Launched in 2009, Relax Melodies was an early pioneer in the sleep stories and meditation app space, growing to over 55 million downloads until the company’s 2020 acquisition by Teladoc, the parent company to mental health platform, BetterHelp.
Now leading a team of app marketing experts, Fouad has overseen successful marketing strategies for over 100 app businesses of all sizes. In Braavo Office Hours, we chatted with Fouad (CEO & Founder) and Leila (Search Manager) of App Guardians, discussing App Store Optimization, Subscription Revenue Optimization (SRO), paid UA, and founder experiences.
1. ASO begins with your app’s positioning
When an app founder or marketer first approaches a marketing agency like App Guardians, a common challenge they face is positioning, Fouad explains. “Are we a meditation app? Are we a sleep app, or a coaching app? Are we a bit of both? And who’s going to use our app – there are a lot of apps out there that do the same thing, and in the end it’s really a fight for people’s attention. For an app it’s all about how you’re different.”
Fouad explains that effectively serving a niche audience could take your app to the top of the charts, if you can clearly convey your app’s position within that market category. “ThinkUp is the number one affirmation app,” Fouad says of their client. “It may not have a massive audience, but it serves the purpose of what it does for a niche category.”
2. Target niche app categories to win over your audience
Serving a niche category also benefits your app’s visibility on the App Store, which can help lead to organic growth compared to what your app might achieve targeting a broader category. “Apps that solve very specific and well-known needs reap the most benefits from a visibility and keyword optimization perspective, since a majority of keyword searches on the App Store result from short-tail keywords, such as meditation,” says Leila, Search Manager at App Guardians. “That’s why building awareness can be highly competitive in those (broader) categories, and can require a lot of external sources of traffic – even just to rank for those organic terms.”
Given the importance of your app’s positioning, Leila urges that founders and marketers focus on targeting the right users, even with a niche category. “When you target the wrong user, people who have a negative experience are more likely to leave negative feedback or reviews, so it’s really important to ensure the right users download your app. Having negative reviews and poor retention are negative signals in the app store algorithm so it can really be harmful for your app’s rankings in the long run.”
3. Assess your internal resources before prioritizing localization
App founders and marketers might jump at the opportunity to translate their app or provide their app’s content in multiple languages. But it’s not so simple, Fouad explains. “In some cultures the concepts are not going to be well-received or understood. It also depends on the content of the app itself. For example, sleep sounds don’t need to be localized but a coaching app may need to be fully translated if it’s going to work in another language.”
Tackling localization takes a team and involves research, design, development, and other resources you may not have unlimited access to. Also, continually supporting your localization efforts would be needed to be successful. “Can you operationally execute on that?” Fouad asks, urging founders to determine where your app really needs to be from a localization perspective before diving in. If this is something you’d like to focus on, a good place to start would be testing out one market where you’re already seeing early signals of success.
4. Optimize your app against the competition
One benefit of working with an app marketing agency is that they have a constant pulse on what’s out there, what competitors are doing and how the market is reacting to those efforts. Internally, that means having someone on your team keeping a close eye on the competition. “What’s really important that people often forget is that you should just optimize your app against competitors,” Leila explains. “Identify their store focus and strategies, identify those repeatable patterns and their unique selling proposition, regularly monitor their reviews and ratings. Try to identify some shortcomings and differentiate your strategy.”
5. Use Apple Search Ads to improve your organic ranking
Leila also recommends leveraging Apple Search Ads to learn about which keywords perform best for your app, and to lift organic performance simultaneously. “The higher you rank for terms organically the more your ads will show up in search results. And the more installs you get from Apple Search Ads it can also increase your organic ranking,” Leila says. “It’s like an endless circle.” This article dives deeper into the topic of paid user acquisition contributing to incremental organic growth.
6.Get your app featured on the App Store by focusing on your user journey
If you’re a founder that’s dreamed of getting featured on the App Store, there are a few good reasons for that. “Let’s be honest, it’s kind of like hitting the jackpot,” Leila says. “Really strong discovery tool, increases your app’s visibility, brand awareness efforts, and signals the quality of your app to users.” But when it comes to actually getting the attention of an App Store Editor, she recommends optimizing your user journey, starting with your App Store presence along with your app’s UX and UI. “You really want to tell a good story, so it’s important to optimize the user experience within the app, create beautiful and eye-catching creatives, and if you’re submitting to get featured on the App Store – there are real people going over these submissions, so you really need to tell a compelling story about what makes your app different,” Leila explains.
The advantage of being featured on the App Store is that it can also have a long-term impact on your app’s organic growth, Leila explains. “You’ll see your impressions and app product page visitors go up, which will hopefully result in a spike of downloads as well, which could in turn increase your app and category rankings.” If you’ve optimized your App Store product pages and the user experience well, you’re in a better position to benefit from this heightened exposure.
7. Prioritize Subscription Revenue Optimization (SRO) in today’s economy
Subscription Revenue Optimization, or SRO, is a newer acronym in the app marketing world that involves improving your app experience as it leads users further down the subscription funnel. Not to be confused with the more common Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO), SRO applies to an app or digital service and the downstream events that lead to a subscription taking place. One example, Fouad points out, is that even app giants like Uber have moved into SRO marketing with the introduction of their Uber One membership, a monthly subscription that lets users save on deliveries, groceries, and rides.
“The revenue that an app receives from people depends on so many factors within the funnel – like day-30 retention, stickiness, the events that lead to a purchase, and habitual behaviors within the app,” Fouad explains. “The arts and science behind how to optimize conversions throughout different stages of the user journey – with creatives, offers, push notifications, and email – ultimately should be designed to get users hooked on the product and convert them to subscribe at the right time. That is subscription revenue optimization.”
In an economic recession, or during a time when purchasing power is lower, SRO is all the more important to focus on, Fouad says. “If you’re on a budget, you don’t have to spend $100 on Duolingo for language learning, you can just go to Youtube and learn something for free. This is the reality of the world we live in now, so app marketers need to be smarter with how their subscription stands out.”
Here are a few of the dominant SRO trends to pay attention to this year:
- User onboarding
- Paywall optimization
- User segmentation
- Predictive churn and retargeting
- Lifecycle marketing (eg. email, push notifications or SMS)
If you’re a small team, working with an app marketing agency can provide access to full-stack marketing experts who have years of experience in SRO best practices.
8. Experiment with paid UA and user-generated content
If you have a small budget to test out various UA channels, it’s worth it – especially if your marketing campaigns would perform well with user generated content (UGC). “TikTok tends to be about one-third cheaper CPI compared to Facebook, and if you’re targeting genZ or younger millennials there’s also the opportunity for UGC,” Fouad says.
App founders and marketers shouldn’t be shy to explore UGC with influencers, through models like a revenue-split based on the subscribers you acquire, Fouad says. “If you want to get a fitness app to go viral, you could find an influencer and create dynamic links through third party attribution tools to track and see the performance of each UGC ad, and do a revenue-share with the influencer. There are a lot of young people who want to make money this way.” We dive deeper into non-traditional marketing strategies like this here.
9. Don’t be afraid to delegate and spend money to get to your next stage of growth
In my own experiences as an app founder, I’ve learned it can be difficult to step aside and let someone else take ownership of product, marketing, or operational tasks in order to grow. But not only is delegating an essential part of entrepreneurship, it forces you to think about the trajectory of your business and what’s worth investing in today to achieve an outcome 5-10 years down the road, like what Relax Melodies did.
“A lot of founders are skeptical about spending money, but there’s actually no such thing as organic and free. Everything costs money,” Fouad argues. “Even ASO is someone’s time and it’s tedious to optimize the heck out of everything. The reality is you may need to take some steps back, and figure out what are your real priorities, like your product, or partnerships, or fundraising, or whatever else matters right now in your entrepreneurial journey.”
Are you thinking about working with an app marketing agency to reach your app’s next stage of growth? Sign up to find out how Braavo can support you with the funding you need to get there.