3 ways to immediately improve your Facebook mobile app install ads

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The app economy has grown exponentially in recent years. While there is still tremendous untapped potential in the market, the “app bubble” has created a number of challenges for app developers and publishers both in terms of discovery and monetization. With less than 1 percent of all apps generating significant revenue, and more than 1 million apps in Apple’s App Store alone, simply having a cool feature or great user experience is no longer good enough.

The lifespan of many apps can be remarkably short, making it crucial for app developers to quickly gain market share and to do so in a cost-effective manner. Facebook has become one of the leading platforms for app developers looking to acquire new users due to its huge user base (a billion-plus and growing) and relatively low barriers to entry for advertisers.

Thus, the app install ad has gained prominence. According to eMarketer, app install ads constitute between 30 and 50 percent of the mobile advertising market, excluding search. At the current rate of growth, app install ad spend in the U.S. will reach somewhere between $2.6 billion and $4.3 billion in 2014, and upwards of $11 billion in 2017.

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Making sure your app install ad generates the desired level of user acquisition often comes down to the quality of creative used.

Below are three examples of innovative Facebook mobile app install ads and the lessons they offer app developers.

Lesson #1: Use Real People and Images, Not Screenshots
There isn’t a universal rule for what kind of imagery works best in Facebook app install ads. However, just showing screenshots of your app isn’t going to entice many new users. People want to see the real-world uses and benefits of the app.

For example: An app install ad for a language-learning add could show a person speaking into the app and getting feedback on their language skills. The use of real-world uses within the ad creative will help people visualize the benefits of the app. This is especially important when advertising a paid app.

In the below example from Hotels.com, note how the image of one of its rooms is displayed below the call to action to download its app to “start your vacation.” The creative, in this case a vivid and real image, engages the user to daydream about his or her dream vacation and the call to action drives the acquisition of a new app installation.

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Lesson #2: Borrow Great Creative Techniques from Other Apps
As any marketer will tell you, the best ad creative often comes from someone else’s idea or technique. That’s not to say you should steal ad creative from other app publishers. Instead, study how other apps are advertised and pick a few best practices and techniques from those ads to incorporate into your app install ad unit.

Even if the ad creative is unrelated to your specific app, you can take the template of the ad creative — the images used, how the brand’s logo is positioned, where the messaging is displayed within the ad, etc. — and incorporate a similar approach for your app install ad.

Try this exercise: Spend 10 minutes studying three different app install ads on Facebook. Then hire a good freelance designer to create versions of an ad for your app based on the examples you pulled. In a relatively short period of time you will have a handful of creative approaches that have been optimized via millions of dollars of someone else’s advertising spend.

In short, don’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to designing your Facebook app install ad. Make it unique to your app and appealing to your desired customers but keep it within the general confines of what is working at the time in your industry. This will ensure it resonates with a broad base of potential users.

In the below example, the financial management app BillGuard has wisely included a testimonial that sits above a photo of someone using its app. It has also embedded within the ad a screenshot of what its app looks like on a users’ phone. The real-world imagery helps make what could be a static, boring ad come alive with relevance and authenticity for potential customers.

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Lesson #3: Embrace the New Reality of Performance-Based Facebook Advertising

Facebook’s ad solutions have changed dramatically in recent years. What was once predominantly an engagement-only ad solution has evolved to become an engagement plus performance-based direct-response ad platform.

New tools like Custom Audiences, Lookalike Audiences and Page Post link ads offer app developers a variety of ways to target specific user groups with relevant and timely offers. Late last year, Facebook introduced cost-per-action (CPA) bidding in an effort to improve the performance of mobile app install ads. Facebook has also made significant changes to its News Feed, decreasing the exposure it gives to brands’ text-based posts in favor of image-based posts.

In the below example, Fab.com has served a “Suggested Item” ad based on the prior purchasing habits of the specific user (in this case, me). Facebook’s Custom Audiences tool helped Fab.com enabled Fab.com to find a group of users like me who had made prior purchases with the company. It was able to serve up a specific ad with a specific offer based on that group’s demographics and purchase intent.

mobileads4 As the app install landscape becomes increasingly competitive, app developers and publishers need to be more focused than ever on using innovative creative in their ad campaigns. Applying a more focused approach to your Facebook ad creative, combined with a nuanced understanding of Facebook’s advanced ad targeting solutions, will ensure your app install ad campaigns generate the desired level of user acquisition.

Adam Lovallo is co-founder of Grow.co, a customer acquisition think tank and strategic advisory services firm. Grow.co is hosting the Mobile User Acquisition Unlocked conference June 10-11 in Las Vegas. 

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