Incremental Growth 101: What organic uplift is and why it matters

In this article, Max Weintraub, Business Development Manager at Braavo, discusses what incremental growth looks like for growing mobile apps. Read a case study from a Braavo client, and learn why relying on organic growth alone won’t generate results.

If you’re a new mobile app founder and you’ve seen some initial success with your app through sheer organic growth, you’re probably wondering what you can do next. You’ve thought about investing in paid user acquisition, but it seems like a big risk. After all, if you’re going to invest $15K – $20K/month on a UA campaign, and you can’t guarantee immediate results, why not coast on organic growth?

Unfortunately, the glory days of viral growth in the app store are over. Viral, everlasting organic growth does not exist anymore (unless you’re currently Tik Tok). The most successful apps spend thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars every month to capture audiences. 

In general, your growth curve will stay relatively flat if you rely on organic growth. And while the app store does still feature apps, which launches them to success, you can’t expect for that to happen as a growth strategy. Even when it does happen, you can’t guarantee instant virality. 

The truth is, every day that you don’t spend on advertising, you miss out on installs coming from incremental growth. More critically, your ideal users who are searching for something exactly like your app are not aware of it or being reminded of it. Instead, they’re seeing ads for your competitors’ apps, and they’re installing their apps, not yours. 

In the typical lifecycle of an app user, at any given point they will always have a set number of apps on their phone. Whether they use 2-3 workout apps at a time or play 7 games, there’s always going to be a cycle of installing a new app, using it, and then searching for a new one. You want to be top of mind – or literally on their screen – when they’re ready to look for a new app.

In this article, I’ll share what incremental growth for user acquisition means. I’ll also discuss why it matters, and how it leads to organic uplift.

 

So, what happens when you invest in paid user acquisition?

Impressions is one of the most valuable metrics to pay attention to – and it’s also the one most often ignored. 

Let’s say you decide to spend $500/day on paid UA at a cost per install (CPI) of $1/user. Let’s say on average, each user is worth $3. That means you’ll bring in $2 in profit per user. 

You decide to scale up, so you triple your paid UA to $1500/day. Your CPI has increased, and your profit per user has automatically decreased, since you’re now spending more to get each user.

This is where a lot of founders look at the numbers, decide that paid UA isn’t worth it due to the increase in CPI and decrease in profit.

In my experience, what usually happens in this scenario is that your profits actually increase – due to increased volume and organic uplift. It’s true that when you increased your UA spend to $1500/day, you lowered your return on ad spend (ROAS) and in turn, your profit margin per user. 

However, you also dramatically increased the number of impressions you get – to the tune of hundreds of thousands of impressions per day. You’re getting your app in front of hundreds of thousands of people every single day for weeks on end.

Many founders only look at revenue per install, and don’t consider the value of having an additional 150,000-200,000 impressions per day. They don’t consider the value of a user who sees an ad a few times and then, a week later, searches for a few apps, sees yours, and consciously or unconsciously remembers your app and downloads.

They didn’t come from your app somehow going viral without you noticing. They’re the result of your paid user acquisition campaign: Users who saw your ad earlier and are returning to download.

 

An incremental growth case study: 10x organic uplift in 90 days

Mobile incremental growth case study

Let’s take a look at results from a real client I worked with. When I started working with them, they were getting a very consistent 600-700 organic installs per day, without spending on marketing.

 

Month 1

Before the campaign began, the client was already generating 600-700 organic users per day. I started them out with a respectable test campaign spend of $500 per day. After the month, here were the results:

  • Paid installs increased from 0 to 500 per day, for a total of 15K paid installs
  • Impressions increased from 0 to 17,000-20,000 per day, for a total of 500K-600K impressions
  • Organic installs increased from 600-700 to 800 installs per day, for a total of 24K organic installs

We attributed this organic lift to a combination of users returning to download after seeing an ad, an increase in App Store rank, word of mouth, and improved app store optimization (ASO). 

 

Month 2

In the second month, we doubled this client’s ad spend to $1000/day. Here were the results:

  • Paid installs doubled to 1000 per day, for a total of 30K paid installs
  • Impressions increased from 17,000-20,000 to 50,000 per day, for a total of 1.5M impressions
  • Organic installs increased from 800 to 2000 installs per day, for a total of 60K organic installs

 

Month 3

In the third month, we scaled spend to $2K/day. Here was the result:

  • Paid installs doubled again to 2000 per day, for a total of 60K paid installs
  • Impressions increased from 50,000 to 80,000 per day, for a total of 2.4M impressions
  • Organic installs increased from 2,000 to 6,000-7000 installs per day, for a total of 150K – 210K organic installs

 

This is the result of work that occurred over 3 months, and from however many hundreds of thousands of users who had now seen the client’s app. 

Even though this client is spending significantly more and immediate ROAS has dropped, they’re also now generating 2000 installs instead of 500. Organic lift has gone way up – which means ultimately, they’re making a larger profit margin than before. 

 

Compounding, incremental growth matters

Investing in paid user acquisition is a long game. The payoff isn’t usually obvious in the first week – or even the first month. However, as you acquire users, and these users stick around and continue to play and generate revenue, your efforts begin to pay off down the line, with greater potential for profitability than you would have experienced otherwise.

Timing for user acquisition is critical here as well, particularly for games. Games tend to have a relatively shorter lifespan than other apps. By the time revenue from your game is unlocked from the app stores 45-60 days out, your users may have already churned and are ready to move on, and the opportunity to drive additional growth for your game is over. 

As a business manager at Braavo, I’ve seen firsthand the difference in results between games that have consistent weekly capital to invest into growth compared with games that have to wait as much as 3 months for their revenue. More established games or industry titans have the benefit of years of capital they can dip into to fuel growth, but if you’re an indie developer, you don’t usually have that benefit. 

I’ve also seen what happens when indie developers resort to raising equity funding or selling a part of their business to a publisher in order to get access to this capital for growth. In the short-term, they’re able to see their game get funded, but in the long-term, they lose control over the games they’ve worked so hard to build. In general, my recommendation is that if you’re a game developer starting out, do whatever you can to drive growth quickly through paid user acquisition.

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