"No amount of sophistication is going to allay the fact that all of your knowledge is about the past and all of your decisions are about the future" - Ian Wilson

As the fall-out from COVID-19 continues, over the next few weeks Adjust will be sharing insights from our clients and partners, giving mobile marketers some actionable intelligence on how to navigate this new world. We are proceeding from a point of view, not of a ‘new normal’, but an ongoing state of affairs that will be much more dynamic, volatile and uneven than normal.

In this fast-evolving and unpredictable environment, there will be new opportunities and challenges for mobile marketing. Over this series, we want to plot a course from the old paradigm of ‘mobile first’ to a new one of ‘mobile best’, in which mobile marketers must constantly rethink what goes into their strategies to remain on top.

Seize Opportunities

Mobile apps experienced a sharp rise in usage in the first quarter of 2020, with new installs of apps rising as high as 132% over the same time last year, as we laid out in our most recent App Trends report for 2020. While the app economy has proven to be resilient throughout the COVID-19 crisis, some verticals have not been immune to the uncertainty of widespread social distancing and lockdowns.

E-commerce apps, for example, pulled back on spending for user acquisition and saw a marked decline of app installs and in-app sessions in late March. But since the beginning of April, Adjust found that E-commerce apps have begun to recover, with installs and in-app sessions on the rise, a sign that ad spend on user acquisition has resumed. Some apps in the E-commerce space are already trending back to normal spending.

Marian Bucher, Senior App Growth Manager at German E-commerce company Otto, saw a similar reaction, with peers pulling back on user acquisition: “We definitely observed a decline in ad spend throughout March. Various companies, some even bigger than Otto, pulled their budgets out of the market. As a result, remaining companies werer able to spend their budgets at a lower CPC or eCPM.”

These lower eCPMs resulted from a fall in demand, which, in turn, fueled an opportunity. This situation allowed Otto to generate more growth at a time when many others were shell-shocked. “We kept our app user acquisition budget stable and were able to generate more growth than otherwise possible,” says Bucher. But that did not mean Otto hewed to the status quo. “You have to be flexible, and be prepared to change your bidding or campaign structure. Even within a few hours.”

Constantly Update Your Data and Your Assumptions

Remaining flexible and having the ability to make data-driven changes quickly are crucial. “There is no return to ‘normal’, customers are changing behaviors at such a rapid rate,” says Amaryllis Liampoti, Partner & Growth Director at the BCG Digital Ventures Center and former VP of Marketing at Rocket Internet. “You need to prioritize data and the tools that can provide real insight, while constantly reevaluating your assumptions.“

Daniel Sichel, Digital & Mobile Lead at UK agency Mindshare believes that COVID-19 has put a premium on tight feedback loops. “Trying to predict how and where consumers will engage with campaigns has been particularly challenging. It’s taught me to not assume I know best and just how vitally important it is to open up conversations with our audiences and customers and get better data,” said Sichel.

Liampoti envisions a new, human-centered approach to mobile marketing based on data that will require more automation and AI to work at scale. “We’re going to see a much more fluid and dynamic kind of customer targeting that is less about personas and customer segments, and more about bringing multiple data points into play.”

With a focus on holistic customer profiling, having access to the full journey to install across every touchpoint becomes imperative.

Rethink the Customer Journey

A steady stream of updates in uncertain times inevitably extends to the entire customer journey. Marian Bucher is constantly reevaluating the multiple touchpoints that inform how users come to Otto’s online shopping app. “It’s not just collecting data, it’s connecting the dots in such a way that we understand the multiple paths of how anonymized users convert.” Otto has built an infrastructure of internal identifiers within Otto’s business intelligence systems to match with overall campaign data, to understand exactly where users are in the funnel, so that they can segment and optimize campaigns accordingly.

BCG Digital Ventures’ Liampoti sees an opportunity amid the uncertainty to rethink the customer journey more fundamentally. “I think there is almost an obligation for companies to accompany the customers into this new journey. It’s unchartered territory.”

Liampoti says that you should be constantly reviewing your customer journey mapping — to understand what the new frictions might be and, therefore, what the new opportunities are. Once you have completed your journey mapping, you “need to revisit that process again fairly quickly, again. Within months.”

Understanding how various channels link to apps, such as email, web, social, and SMS, play an important part in the customer journey and finding the right way to engage with them across platforms is crucial.

“A fintech, for example, might have many small business customers, who are struggling with liquidity. So offering a webinar to demonstrate how companies could actually solve the problem by explaining government grants and benefits, helps alleviate a key friction and keeps customers engaged,” says Liampoti.
By offering guidance through these channels, marketers can ultimately drive customers back to the core product, and even grow new customers looking for timely information on topics important to them. “Using empathy and understanding the emotional state of users is crucial for campaigns today, and also helps the bottom line,” says Liampoti.

Watch for New Signals

Detecting the signs of major shifts and moving fast enough to take advantage will be incredibly important for marketers going forward. By seizing opportunities, constantly updating your data and assumptions, and rethinking the customer journey, mobile marketers can lay the groundwork for what comes next.

Getting the right message to the right people at the right time will be really important to maintain any gains you might have made during the last period of organic mobile growth, or to catch up with competitors who kept advertising.

But with the peaks and troughs that we are facing for the coming months, the most important advice is simple: mobile — more than ever — is key to whatever sort of world we end up in. Keeping the message out there that your brand is essential — and marketing empathetically to solve problems for your users — will ensure that you aren’t left out of the conversation in what comes after.

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