How apps could finally take flight for marketers

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2017 may be the year marketers finally master the in-app experience, and go beyond customer acquisition to engagement and retention.

Mobile is a complex marketing channel, and it's difficult to truly normalize or standardize a strategic approach to it. Nevertheless, it's one of the strongest channels for marketing because of its consistently high user engagement.

Last year saw AR, live streaming, and other forms of interactive video dominate mobile, and many of the discussions around it. This year's major mobile shake-up has yet to reveal itself, but marketers can rest assured that something is coming to this vital, tumultuous space as 2017 unfolds. In particular apps—more specifically, app experiences—will be a likely be a big topic for mobile marketers throughout the year.

"Whether it's time-spent-in, purchase activity, average order size, or whatever it may be: When you look at apps vs. mobile web, apps tend to outperform by a very significant margin," says Sunil Bhagwan, VP of sales at AppsFlyer. "On a macro level, it makes sense for a lot of different companies across different verticals—whether you're copy commerce, or gaming, or travel—to really invest and develop an in-app experience for [your] consumers."

Nevertheless, while the Ubers and Lifts of the world have blazed a mobile app marketing trail, many businesses still struggle to make app experiences valuable to their audiences. Indeed, even those that are successful in this may find that apps don't have much of a shelf life for their brand.

"Within 30 days, on average, 80 percent of those [app] users will go dormant," Bhagwan says. "That's because it's extremely competitive. There are a million different apps in the app store, so it's very hard to get the attention of users."

Part of the responsibility lies at marketers' feet. Many who are striving to push apps do so with the goal of acquiring customers or leads, and not necessarily of improving the customer experience in any significant way. That may, or at least should, change this year.

"One of the main things moving into 2017 we see is moving beyond just acquisition, and moving more into retention and engagement," Bhagwan says.

Along with driving app engagement, marketers may also want to pay close attention to mobile ad fraud, particularly install fraud, and how tech providers are combating the issue.

"When we look at install fraud as a whole, conservatively, it's a $300 to $400 million-a-year problem. Again, that's conservative. It's probably much larger than that," Bhagwan says. "The challenge we're trying to solve here is that, while fraud exists, historically it's been a reactive approach to addressing it after the campaign has run and the money is spent."

Marketers can take a more proactive approach to combating install fraud, and other forms of mobile ad fraud, by having the right technology in place, and by thoroughly reviewing reports from their partners.

"The average mobile-first marketer is using upwards of 28 different partners to drive users into the app and retarget them," Bhagwan says. "As you start to drill into that through active fraud insights ... you can start to quickly identify offenders, and get ahead of that in real time."

This story first appeared in DMN.