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The Top 6 Foundations Every Mobile-First Marketer Should Focus on 

Being an excellent mobile-first growth marketer today isn’t an easy task. As a whole the ecosystem continues to be fragmented making it difficult to know where to prioritize your budget and what your ideal marketing tech stack should look like to maximize your return on investment. 

Many advertisers continue with strategies that aren’t mobile first despite data clearly indicating that consumers are spending more of their time on these devices. Large brands face an eternal struggle between product, brand and performance marketing teams.  The cross-functional disconnect can cause a strain on resources, slow reaction time to market changes and unsatisfactory results from advertising efforts. 

In this guide our goal is to outline the Top 6 Foundations that a mobile-first growth team should be focusing on for the second half of 2019 and beyond. We hope that the information we provide below can bring clarity on priorities for these teams and help them succeed with their future advertising efforts. 

These are the 6 topics that we think will drive successful growth marketing campaigns: 

Growth Marketing Defined

Growth Marketing has become a buzz word appearing significantly in LinkedIn posts, job titles and general remits. What does a term that words itself in a way that can translate into a whole lot of things really mean in the mobile world? In this instance, it shall be used at looking at the entire customer journey which leverages intelligence to generate exponential returns, while providing a positive user experience. We shall be taking this from a customer acquisition standpoint which is the norm and includes sub topics that include: subscription model-based businesses, in app purchases and generally speaking a measurable return on media investment. Going further into this type of avenue comes the importance of churn rates and the increase of percentage required fiscally to maintain revenue. 

Growth Marketing allows advertisers to hit the freeway at full speed

Anybody that can deem themselves a growth marketing expert need to back it up by being a data monster in devising the most effective strategies in not only driving revenue, but correlating it to media spend efforts. Growth and finance are directly related, in that one is responsible for paying customers while the other is respectively in charge of cash flow. We could go further by expanding on the importance of product and UX and how this plays a huge role within the customer journey, however for all intents and purposes assuming that the customer funnel is adequate within an active offering, the real challenge is how to get users to convert into long term customers. It’s important to follow some guideline on average thresholds or benchmarks relative to budget allocations but equally so, successful marketing teams need to understand that trial and error should not be considered a path to failure. Sometimes this can be the fastest strategy in gaining a missing piece of information that can be applied and then lead to growth.

We must not be averse to implementing different strategies in order to see what will yield the best results. There shall be a gradual tendency to reach new highs for positive growth and the real question is on how to optimize in order to continue working within an ongoing pattern of success.


Creative is by far the most important part of any advertising effort. Whether it is TV, traditional online, out of home or any other format without good creative you won’t see any results. Unfortunately, when it comes to a mobile-first strategy, advertisers are consistently overlooking the importance of good creative. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal highlighted a study conducted by Neurons Inc. for the Mobile Marketing Association. According to their research “consumers took 400 milliseconds to see and react emotionally to 67% of mobile ads tested” while on desktop it took much longer, 2-3 seconds. This research sounds great for mobile, but we need to remember that they were only measuring a reaction and it was not defined as positive or negative. This is where quality of creative becomes much more important. Mobile marketers today need to ensure their creative strategy creates a positive brand response within the first 400 milliseconds that a consumer views their ad. 

The question becomes – how do you produce mobile creative assets that generate a positive brand response? 

  1. Start with video: Video consumption on mobile is quickly becoming one of the most popular forms of media consumption. Your ability to catch attention, build brand equity and increase performance is light years ahead with the use of video formats. Video ads in general are a more accepted form of advertising on mobile, that alone yields more positive customer interactions. They aren’t spammy, you can allow user to opt out if they aren’t interested. The majority of growth marketing planning should start with a foundation around mobile video and then grow from there, but make sure they are short 10-20 seconds.
  2. Utilize Playables: This is another format that continues to increase in popularity on mobile but is being under-utilized by companies looking to create positive interactions with their potential customers on mobile. When you look at a playable ad at the core it’s a chance for an opt-in interaction with potential customers. One of the biggest misconceptions about playable ads is that they are for gaming companies only, this simply is not the case. For large non-gaming brands it can be an opportunity to create a bespoke experience and positive interaction with their customers. People like interactive experiences and when they opt in to interacting with a brand’s playable advertisement it’s a win-win for both advertiser and consumer.  Brands can utilize these formats for multiple purposes: unlocking premium content, building brand equity through positive customer interactions, previewing their product, etc. 
  3. Banners should play a supporting role: Most people when they think about mobile advertising think about seeing low quality banner ads (or interstitials) placed in the content that they are consuming. Unfortunately, quite often these can be intrusive and come off as spammy. As a result, this this leaves customers with negative reactions to the brands that they see primarily using this format. At todo Mobile, we recommend to our clients that these formats are used in a supporting role. This means that their banner creative strategy should supplement video/playable from a user acquisition standpoint and can be a first touchpoint when re-engaging with current customers who already interact with your brand. If a user has seen your video or interacted with your playable then they absolutely should be exposed to your banner advertisements. Keeping these formats simple can reinforce brand awareness and ultimately drive down funnel performance. 

The next question we get asked a lot from advertisers is around creative refreshing. How often should this be happening? Our normal answer for this is as much as possible. Creative assets (as with most things) are subject to the law of diminishing returns. The longer they are in market the less effective they become. At minimum you should be trying out new creative once every quarter. This is inclusive across all formats. Our preference is to consistently update creative every month and using our learnings from previous months to drive future iterations. To be clear we aren’t suggesting entirely new creative every month, rather iterating imagery and concept on what is in market. 

Of course, this is only speaking for “always on creative” that are consistently part of your marketing efforts. You can and should have specific creatives for holidays, special events or sales relevant to your brand. 

If creative resources are an issue for your company and you’re only able to refresh quarterly, then your schedule may be more condensed. Focussing your efforts on the right creative strategy for your brand will help increase your results exponentially. Start by looking at what formats you are focussing on and ensure that you have a plan for regular updates. 

An upward trend in growth occurs as all pieces of the marketing puzzle are optimized.

“Most brands can’t make relative creative, because they aren’t making enough creative to hit the many different cohorts they need to be talking to.” – Gary Vaynerchuk


We aren’t going to dive into the specifics of fraud in this guide. This topic alone could be the subject of an entire guide itself. Additionally, as the strategies taken by fraudsters evolves the information could become outdated quite quickly. Instead we are going to look at the primary strategies and tools you should have in place to ensure you are mitigating as much as possible.  

  1. 3rd Party Fraud Detection: Make sure you’re integrated with at least one 3rd party fraud detection and prevention tool. Specific stacks for advertisers are going to differ greatly depending on your vertical, if you have (or don’t have) an app, etc. Regardless you should be hooked up to at least one traffic verifying source (like Forensiq, Integral Ad Science, MOAT). If you have an app then we recommend you use the fraud suite provided by your attribution provider (Protect 360 by Appsflyer, Adjust’s Fraud Prevention Suite, Singular’s Fraud Prevention Suite, etc). 
  2. Ensure ad partner transparency: Your ad partners are providing impression visibility and view-ability metrics and inventory transparency for their traffic.  This is especially true for performance mobile app campaigns bought on a CPA basis. Ensure ad partners you are working with are able to pass this data. Although the inability to pass this data isn’t a concrete identifier of fraudulent traffic it’s better to play on the safe side and ensure you have it. It’s will also be important for a subject we speak about later (accounting for full funnel metrics). Transparency on this data became less and less common 5-6 years ago when advertisers were buying purely on a CPI (or CPA) basis and weren’t concerned with impression/clicks that were delivered on their campaigns. They were only worried about the volume of installs and actions that they could drive. Unfortunately, this strategy came at the cost for brand safety as frequency capping was high and ads became spammy for users. 
  3. Prepare for a data reset (app advertising only): Unfortunately, due to some of the type of frauds that criminals have been able to perpetrate over the past few years the majority of advertiser’s data isn’t 100% clean. This is especially true when it comes to click flooding and capturing of organic install data (when a publisher creates fake clicks in order to acquire attribution for a user who didn’t actually view and advertisement). A symptom of this issue has resulted in better than normal performance for attributed advertising data (because organic, high quality users are mixed in with attribution). The problem arises when advertisers work to reduce this type of fraud, they go through what can be coined as “performance withdrawal”. As they work to clean up the traffic they are buying, attributable performance actually goes down (since they are reducing the number of organics being attributed). This can cause some alarm and quite often we see advertisers re-lapse and continue to buy this poor type of media because visually they see the performance as better.  The reality is that as you reduce the impact of fraud on your campaign’s performance, results actually improve (since you’re now measuring only legitimate paid installs). 

Fraud will continue to be an issue in the digital marketing industry for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, make sure you are set up with and ad verification partner, demand transparency from your partners if they aren’t providing it and if you haven’t already then be prepared for a data reset as you reduce potential bad traffic on your campaigns. 

According to Appsflyer’s “The State of Mobile Fraud” report fraud is again on the rise accounting for an estimated 2.3 billion dollars worldwide in H1 2019. 

Accounting for Full Funnel Metrics

One of the biggest trends that we’ve noticed in the past 5+ years is that marketers like to zoom in on their one key metric and optimize only to that point, disregarding other touchpoints before (or after) that metric. Whether it’s a view, click, landing, open, install, registration, purchase, order marketers should be looking at and optimizing their data holistically. If you’re an online shopping brand the journey through to purchase matters (impression, click, landing, etc). As another example, if your primary key performance indicator is app install growth those metrics (impression, click, etc) matter! And even more important your post-install metrics matter as well. Budgets aren’t infinite and we should be trying to get the highest quality out of each dollar spent. 

Full funnel metrics allow for exponential growth within marketing plans

Let’s dive into the app install example further.  Recently it’s become more popular for advertisers to purchase these campaigns on a Cost per Install (CPI) basis. At a glance this makes sense, it reduces the risk for the advertiser in terms of pricing. They are guaranteed to get installs at a rate that generally guarantees them a positive ROI. However, with this type of buy there is no incentive for publishers/networks to optimize click/impression levels. From their point of view in order to get paid they need to generate installs. Forget about any sort of frequency capping on your advertising efforts. These publishers are going to do what it takes to maximize their install volume and thus their revenue. Bidding on low cost impressions on low quality inventory in order to secure installs. 

This also loops back to our conversation around fraud. Enter click flooding, with advertisers so focussed on buying on a CPI they were disregarding impression/click metrics entirely and only focusing on the volume of installs they were able to drive. This allowed fraudsters to move in and “flood” real user devices with fake clicks in the hope that the user would download the targeted app within the click-to-install attribution window, and they could claim credit for that install. 

We have few recommendations for advertisers based on this: 

  1. Reduce your reliance on CPI:  Focus more on programmatic CPM or CPC that optimizes towards eCPI and other goals. Authentic paid traffic will always be more valuable then false fraudulent traffic regardless how the back-end performance metrics look. The increased risk of fraud on CPI buys can easily outweigh the benefits of purchasing on a model with reduced performance risk. In other words, CPI is riskier from a traffic quality perspective while CPM is riskier from a pure performance perspective. 
  1. Keep a close watch on the CPI partners you continue to buy from: We still believe there is a place for CPI on app install campaigns but ensure your partners are reporting the full funnel (click/impressions) and have the ability to cap frequency on impressions. We don’t think it’s worth spamming users with impressions to maximize install volume on these types of campaigns. Rather go in with a good frequency cap for your brand and generate the volume that you can with this cap. This is a better long terms strategy from a brand perspective. 

In general if you take our advice above in the creative section about leading with video/playables and using banners to supplement this activity this by default is going to put you in a good place in terms of your media mix and will help you maximize the installs generated from a lower frequency of banner impressions.

Now let’s discuss optimizing post your target event (in this case, install). Metrics after this event are obviously also important. For most advertisers this is a no brainer and usually their primary point to look at when determining how efficient a campaign is. In other words, the cost of install doesn’t really matter, what is more important is that they are hitting their ROI or ROAS metrics for actual purchase events occurring in their app after the install. 

That being said some advertisers have an install growth target or even a longer path to purchase, so they stop looking at post install metrics. This is a mistake; at minimum you should be optimizing towards some sort of churn rate from your installs. When you pay for installs you want to ensure that these users are actually engaging in your app. This is what will actually be driving revenue. 

We suggest advertisers set on and decide of an event that qualifies initial installs as high quality. It could be as simple as X amount of opens, reaching level X, completing a tutorial, registration etc. When you’re buying from your media sources, you’ll want to optimize initially towards this event even if you aren’t looking directly at any sort of down funnel purchase event. 

This way when you move on to re-engaging these users you know that they at a minimum showed some initial interest in your product and didn’t just download. Open once and then discard. 

A good example of this is the “Loyal User” event that is a default event for all advertisers using their platform. Loyal Users are new users who have opened the app at least 3 times (can be customized per advertiser). Generally speaking, this serves as a good initial indication of the quality of user. 

 “Marketing without data is like driving with your eyes closed.” – Dan Zarella 

Testing Multiple Suppliers

One of the challenges that we help advertisers with is ensuring that they are constantly testing, re-testing, and mixing up their media mix with different partners to ensure that they are operating with an ideal media mix. Regardless of your campaign goals you should avoid “putting all your eggs” in one basket. 

Testing new sources of traffic provides the best marketing mix advertisers can hope for

Depending on the size of your marketing budget this might mean utilizing only a few sources in your media mix, which makes sense with a smaller budget. However, you should constantly ensure that you have additional sources in the pipeline for testing. We like to think of creating a marketing mix similar to that of creating an investment strategy. You could use all your money to buy one stock and hope it performs well to bring you great returns. However, it’s vital to diversify your portfolio to hedge risk from any market changes. 

There are many different ways to categorize sources but to keep things simple let’s just classify them into two different categories

  • Walled Gardens
  • Independent Partners

Simply put Walled Gardens are ecosystems where the environment is controlled by the ecosystem operator. Probably the best example of this would be Facebook. When you advertise on Facebook, they control all the operations involved in using their platform. The ad formats are specific to what Facebook uses, they own all the targeting data and user information, Facebook even owns the attribution process for media you buy from them (which is why Facebook marketing dollars tend to look like they perform better than other channels when attribution might actually be better put to a different source.). 

On the other hand, Independent Partners are the opposite of Walled Gardens. In this case the ecosystem is not controlled by the operator which gives the advertiser much more flexibility in terms of data retention and overall control over their campaigns and data. 

todo Mobile suggests a media mix that encompasses both of these types of sources. Yes, walled gardens are good sources of inventory and should be part of every advertiser’s media mix however we are adamant that advertisers do not rely on them completely. To start they are by default giving up control of their data as there is little to no flexibility on how to operate campaigns with these walled partners. Secondly, they are subject to any changes that the operators of walled gardens might put on them (if their algorithm changes, pricing, product changes etc) can all potentially de-rail and advertiser’s strategy overnight. 

It’s also worth noting that Walled Gardens, like Facebook, are typically not transparent on their margins from advertising activity. Advertisers are happy to forgo this because they see good performance from the campaign. However, because of this they are likely missing out on efficiencies that could be gained by reaching the same audience through a transparent independent partner. This can be compared to the “Costco” effect. Costco, the original big box store in North America has a lot of great deals on products. What people fail to realize is that this isn’t always the case. The typical Costco customer doesn’t shop around and simply assumes that Costco has the best price on the products they buy there. This is especially true for those “in the moment” purchases or even more broadly to fast moving consumer goods. People blindly assume that they are getting the best deal when in reality this might not be the case. The same is true with Walled Gardens. Sure, some of their advertising products are great, are unique and work well. However not everything is priced out in a transparent manner for the advertiser to know that it is indeed the best deal. 

“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving” – David Ogilvy

Understanding your brand cross-platform

Having a holistic view of your data has been a problem that has plagued digital marketers since day one and it’s one that we don’t think should exist anymore. With the advent of walled gardens, different attribution partners, data management partners, etc it’s becoming more difficult to find your data in one spot. Advertiser’s that need to look at attribution in an omni-channel manner are still to this day having a hard time looking at their figures completely. If a user installs your app and then completes a purchase through their desktop is this correctly getting tracked and attributed back to the most recent marketing event (or if you’re using a fractional attribution methodology are you seeing things completely?). 

If you’re an omni channel product then it is extremely vital to have a unified user ID that you can use across your channels to drive attribution. This should be an ID that you can use across your internal database and should also be present in 3rd party vendor data so you can understand your marketing efforts as a whole when you ingest the data on your side. 

Cross platform marketing should not be overlooked as number of devices increase.

Understanding how your customers complete path to purchase is a vital part of any advertising strategy. Executing this flow for your brand can drive your whole strategy moving forward. For example, if you know that X% of your customers install your application first and then via email or organically move to traditional desktop to purchase then understanding this will drive your strategy greatly. Armed with this data you will understand that each new install drives more revenue than initially thought (assuming previously you were only looking at your mobile app data and not holistically at your offering). Based on this new knowledge you will be able to spend more per install and continue to see a positive ROI. 

The next step to ensure your data is done right is either using and in-house data aggregator and visualization tool or one of the many 3rd party tools available (Looker, Datarama, Appsumer etc). This is especially important if you’re working with various vendors across different channels for your marketing efforts. You should have the ability to integrate cost metrics across all channels so you can quickly make decisions on how to optimize your campaigns. As a bonus, if you’ve correctly implemented an omnichannel user ID for cross-channel attribution you should be able to bring this completely together at this level of reporting. 

Cross-device data management is vital to deliver the right message at the right time and in the right context and to know that we’re communicating with a single consumer regularly accessing multiple devices as we evolve from Storytelling to very personal Story making.” — Michael Donnelly, SVP, Global Digital Marketing, Mastercard

Speaking with Your CMO

Now you have the gist of Growth Marketing as a whole so how do you speak with your respective CMO and report accordingly. It can be a tricky situation with all the data points that are present to tell a story that makes sense and that is coherent. It’s imperative that KPI’s are agreed upon or forecasted prior to media spend so that in laymen terms one can fathom the cost of acquiring a paying customer without compromising but enhancing brand equity. If you’re in a large marketing team, talking with your CMO can be a cumbersome never-ending process where many findings and important data points can be lost in translation. It is of upmost importance to manage reporting in the simplest format as possible so that rates versus impressions will tell the entire story on their own. Then it can become a lot clearer for a CMO who has to decide brand versus performance spend. For this guide we have gone into detail regarding growth marketing which falls under the umbrella of performance as a whole. Growth marketing is incredibly useful for teams to back up their efforts and be accountable with measurable results. 

Team leaders that are combining data from various marketing departments offer immense insight for the CMO to take a top-level decision. It’s worth mentioning that the CMO can compare quantifiable metrics across various channels in order to bring the team together on achieved goals. By implementing a clear and consistent measurement strategy, the CMO can analyze the program at a granular level while seeing an accurate representation of marketing efforts as a whole. They then are able to report in an accurate manner to the CEO and or the CFO on goals. 

The ever-changing landscape of digital marketing makes it difficult to predict trends that will occur in the foreseeable future.  Having strong leaders in the area of innovation is essential in order to provide value to your CMO. Having open conversations about where the tendencies are occurring and capitalizing on opportunities is paramount for the team environment to succeed. Ensuring that the team is collaborative and the information that enters is free flowing, will allow any brand to succeed with executing their growth marketing objectives. 

Far too many times I hear agency heads say: ‘Well, we never heard from the CMO about what that strategy was,’ and that’s awful, that is a terrible thing to hear.” Liz Miller SVP for CMO council 


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