Blog From acquisition to referral: Boost mobi...

From acquisition to referral: Boost mobile app growth with these full-funnel marketing tips

How do you know if your mobile app growth is healthy when there isn’t a single, all-important metric to rely on? Mobile marketers must take a holistic view to determine how robust their pool of users is. To go beyond the install, it’s helpful to envision your KPIs along a funnel of three phases: Discovery, acquisition, and monetization. Each step of the funnel is an opportunity to optimize user experience, maximize growth, and pad mobile app revenue. However, before we dive too deeply into the different stages, it’s important to understand how to measure app growth and how to build an app growth model.

How is app growth measured?

Each app has its own metrics of focus, but there are a few key metrics for every vertical. Here are five of the most important metrics across verticals:

Whatever metrics you focus on, it’s important to have a holistic view of the customer journey and a mobile app growth strategy that takes each stage of the funnel into account. It’s not just about acquiring users–it’s about keeping them engaged and, hopefully, spending over time.

How to build a mobile app growth model

Acquisition is just the first step on an app’s growth journey. If a mobile app user simply churns immediately after install, true growth cannot be achieved. So it’s important to have a strategy in place to avoid this ‘leaky bucket’ problem. Here are the basic building blocks of a successful mobile app growth strategy:

  1. Acquisition channels
  2. Retention
  3. Growth loops

When building your growth strategy, it's important to understand you’re measuring inputs, not outputs (such as monthly active users). Your model should consider where your users are coming from, how good your team is at keeping those users activated, and what in-app cycles help you continue virtuous cycles of growth. Now that we have some basic understanding of app growth, let’s explore tips for each step of the funnel.


Here are a few tips to help you maximize your app for UA.

Create buzz

Get ahead of your app launch and create a sense of excitement before you hit the app store. How do you wrangle press coverage?

  • Make a list of all outlets that have covered your competitors and reach out directly to the journalists who wrote those stories. Get your homework done ahead of time. Give them a set of hit points that show how unique your app is by comparison.
  • Use your first piece of coverage to leverage more. Offer exclusive coverage to one outlet, or a private invitation to experience a beta version of your app.
  • Lastly, get talking with your target users. Build granular anticipation on the forums where they’re already engaged. If your app offers subscription boxes to new parents, for example, head over to YouTube, where 86% of millennial-age dads turn to parenting videos for guidance.

Hone your paid UA strategy

Different types of ads are used to support specific KPIs in paid acquisition campaigns. Static banners, for instance, drive volume, whereas native ads, which are designed to blend in seamlessly with the environment of the app, are geared toward engagement. Interstitial ads, which pop up across a full screen, offer more real estate than a banner. Video ads offer unique chances for localization and personalization, and have a much higher engagement rate than both banner and interstitial ads.

On the other hand, cross-promotion, or promoting your app in a relevant but non-competitive app, is most successful when run across related verticals or geographic regions. Know the bonuses and challenges associated with each type of ad.

UA strategy in action

Take a new gaming app as an example. The marketing team might begin to create buzz by reaching out to media outlets such as Pocketgamer for coverage. However, games are at an advantage when finding users through paid ads. Advertising in similar games, or even cross-promoting among a developer’s own titles, is a surefire way to find strong leads. Learn how a UA strategy can affect mobile games with Games2win.


A hefty chunk of users install your app, look around for a few seconds, then close the app and leave forever. Why? Many users take a high-friction journey to arrive at your app. The many decisions they make to get there are typically cluttered with options. By the time they arrive at your app, they want a smooth onboarding procedure that gets them up to speed and excited as quickly as possible.

Education + Engagement

When it comes to onboarding, there are two competing schools of thought about how to design the process.

The first option is to take the time to explain the ins and outs of your product to your user:

  • Show them the various features.
  • Ask for any information you might need from the user and explain why it’s required.
  • Encourage them to rate and share the app with friends.

The logic behind this is that the first few screens of the app are when user attention peaks, and giving them all of this information ensures they’ll receive it (so they don’t stumble into the app unsure of how it should function).

The second approach is to keep copy to a bare minimum and get your user engaging with the product as soon as possible:

  • Keep each screen limited to a single action or reduce copy to be as minimal as possible.
  • Design each screen so that even without a single word the user would know what they’re supposed to do.

Here, the idea is to reduce the onboarding experience to a few seconds, eliminate friction, and get the user enjoying the features they expected to find.

It’s worth considering both approaches when designing your app’s onboarding.

Reward every step

Find ways to positively reinforce a user’s behavior during the onboarding process. This could be anything from check boxes that turn green after a form is filled to a thin progress bar that fills with color as the user moves through the process. Even small rewards go a long way to keeping users happy and informed about what’s coming next.

Onboarding strategy in action

Strava is a social networking app for athletes. To keep things simple, the app allows users to sign in with their Google or Facebook profiles, which not only makes getting an account set up easy–it also makes connecting with users you know quick and easy. Making it simple for new users to find their friends increases the likelihood a user will continue to engage with the app, and increases potential for word of mouth acquisition.


Boosting mobile app revenue isn’t just about the users you find. Generally, if you can’t hold on to them, it won’t matter how many you acquire during the first days of a launch. If you’re losing potential high-value users–those who come to your app because they are genuinely interested but have a sub-optimal experience–the likelihood of them returning is slim.

Also, it’s less expensive to retain existing users than acquiring new ones. As such, getting retention right is an equally necessary cornerstone for mobile marketers.

Focus on key channels in the first 30 days

Your top channels are those that send you your highest value users. In other words, if channel A sends you 10,000 low-value users and channel B sends you 150 high-value users, double down on channel B.

Measuring short-term retention is also key, and app marketers tend to follow users through a 30 day period. During this time, measure where the drop-offs occur, and consider activating retargeting campaigns to attract certain users with high-value indicators. Also, consider the lifespan of your app–what do the first 30 days look like for your highest value users? How can you steer those who are churning to behave more like these users? Check and see if there are ways to highlight this pathway for the rest of your users.

The most important metric after all

There’s no magic formula for supersizing mobile app revenue, but your app can focus on the one event that you use to define your success. Ask yourself–what is the action that every user takes when they’re on the way to becoming a loyal customer for life? Is it their first conversion? Becoming a member? This one event is the sun around which the rest of your metrics rotate. Successfully identifying this action, or series of actions, will also be extremely helpful when building your iOS and SKAN strategy.

App retention strategy in action

Retention begins at the acquisition stage, when it's important to find the right users, not just any user. However, retention requires app marketers to identify the times when a user is most likely to churn and find a way to keep them engaged. A simple example of this comes from the e-commerce genre. Shoppers often browse an app, fill their cart, and then navigate away without ever making a purchase. Paying attention to abandoned carts and using push messages or emails to offer discounts is a great way to re-engage users and drive revenue. Learn how FLO increased in-app revenue by 45%.


There are multiple ways to go viral, but word-of-mouth recommendations produce high-quality users. It’s easy to burn through your war chest when you embark on a referral campaign, but there are ways to encourage users to share your app with their friends in ways that feel original and make economic sense.

Make it a win-win

Referrals work best when both parties get something out of it–the new customer as well as the existing user. In practice, receiving something also works better than receiving a promo code.

Create content that users love to share

Many music apps excel at creating moments which users love to send on to their friends. When apps go viral because users are sharing the content they’ve created themselves, this is called demonstration virality (and is particularly excellent at winning high-value new users). However, this type of sharing only happens if users exchange content that happens authentically and naturally in your app.

App referral strategy in action

Online banking platform Tangerine has achieved user experience success with its referral program, the pillar of its growth strategy. New clients earn $50 when they open a Tangerine account using an Orange Key (a referral code) and deposit $250. The fintech app will also strategically deploy limited-time referral bonuses with more substantial rewards. These referral bonuses can help accelerate an app’s growth rate, an impact Tangerine has experienced first-hand.

Driving genuine, meaningful growth happens at all points along the user behavior funnel. Feeling almost ready to launch? Learn about soft launches and how they could benefit a user acquisition strategy with our paid user acquisition guide.

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