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Home Blog App Marketing How has COVID-19 shifted your mobile app marketing?

How has COVID-19 shifted your mobile app marketing?

Jan 27 2021

mobile marketing under COVID-19

With businesses, industries, economies coming to a sudden halt, worldwide, due to the complete lockdowns and social distancing; possibly, the only way out to avert the pandemic COVID-19- the immediate feeler or would say reaction has been of 'wait and watch'.

This epidemic, having impacted all sectors; mobile marketing and advertising, is no exception. In the short term, companies have and will curtail their marketing spend, till the situation stabilizes.

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to keep many quarantined, effective mobile advertising becomes crucial. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for all industries, but for mobile marketers, the circumstances have proven to be somewhat favorable with more consumers on their phones and engaging with media than ever before. 70% of U.S. consumers in areas under lockdown were spending more time on their phones and just over half of consumers increased spending in some way.

Mobile spend remains fastest growing channel despite COVID-19 crisis

Mobile advertising budgets, just like all other advertising subcategories, have taken a hit due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, mobile continues to be the fastest growing channel -- with 94 per cent of marketing professionals feeling mobile advertising is effective.

Despite more marketers using more of their budgets on mobile, Covid-19 has made a significant dent in the amount of mobile budget available. Before the outbreak, 66 per cent of marketers were expecting their mobile budgets to rise over the next year. Now, just 39 per cent can say the same.
These reduced budgets will, for the most part, be focused toward mobile video -- where 50 per cent of mobile budgets, on average, will be allocated by marketers this year. With this focus, 75 per cent of marketers are paying significant attention to ad length and design for mobile-specific content. At the same time, mobile game advertising is predicted to grow alongside 5G advances and, by 2025, 48% cent of marketers feel mobile-based branded content will be their main focus.

When it comes to types of advertising, mobile display is used in 25 per cent of ad campaigns and is the biggest focus of 2020 for 47 per cent of marketers. Paid search and mobile display now account for almost all of global mobile ad spend.

How marketers can keep mobile users engaged during COVID

Mobile marketing works similar to other types of marketing. There's only one difference -- your customers use their mobile to find and reach your business. In a nutshell, you target, connect, and communicate with them through their mobile devices.

Right now, Smart-phones, Tablets, and Games Console are the emerging devices that people use to connect to the internet. In fact, 80% of internet users use smart-phones. Mobile marketing includes a whole set of activities that are linked to the business strategy and overall marketing strategy. Mobile marketing doesn't work the same all the time for all the businesses. It varies -- it varies a lot.

Best practices for mobile marketers

There are several different forms of ad delivery that exist, leveraging factors like placement , incentivization and user autonomy. And there's an inverse relationship between disruption and performance -- with the least disruptive generating the longest gaze and most positive emotions.

More time spent on apps means a bigger opportunity for brands

It hasn't been a secret that COVID-19 and the cascading impact of global quarantining and sheltering-in-place have increased the time people spend on mobile devices. Mobile Marketer estimates that US adults will spend, on average, more than four hours per day with mobile internet in 2020. With 88% of that time within apps, it is becoming imperative for brands to up-level their mobile app marketing programs.

Trends in mobile marketing

While marketing apps has been a priority for most businesses over the past decade of the mobile revolution, the coronavirus has brought new attention and opportunities to app developers.

Data on advertising spend shows marketers are in tune with the pandemic's effects. Despite the economic downturn and several strains on marketing budgets, mobile marketing has remained largely steadfast.

Mobile was less impacted by COVID-19, with ad spend falling just 15 % post-impact (compared to desktop ad spending which fell 25 %). As a result, the shift from desktop (and other digital mediums like TV) to mobile has accelerated, creating an unprecedented potential for brands and businesses to expand their reach via mobile.

Food apps surge

As foot traffic to location-based businesses slowed down during the various quarantines, social-distancing, and sheltering-in-place periods, grocery stores and restaurants have had to rely on digital efforts to sell to consumers. This means a shift in the marketing budget from driving people to their locations and a bigger emphasis on getting consumers to websites and install apps.

This is especially true for grocery and food delivery apps. Nearly four out of five (78.7%) consumers reported in a recent survey that they have shopped online for groceries since the COVID-19 outbreak, up 39% from before the pandemic. 56.7% also said that they shop for groceries online more often now than before the pandemic.

More evidence of this acceleration was that Target's digital sales increased by 275% in April, with some weeks topping seven times the typical volume. And Walmart's grocery app was the top download among all retail apps downloads in April up 460% vs. its daily average in January 2020.

Many experts predict that this shift in consumer shopping behavior will persist even past the pandemic. As more and more consumers get comfortable with getting their food either delivered or via curbside pickup.

Some app categories are becoming more competitive

Marketing apps pre-COVID was highly competitive, but as certain app categories become more popular during the pandemic, marketing them effectively will increasingly become more difficult.

  • Education apps are on the rise as teachers and parents look to supplement home learning with digital content 
  • The overall time spent on finance apps increased by 55% in the US in Q1 2020 as consumers looked to find stability during concerns about the economy
  • With more time at home, home improvement and DYI apps have been a popular category—Home Depot and Lowe's showed 195% and 205% increase in their respective app downloads at times during the pandemic
  • With gyms and some public parks closed, at-home fitness apps were especially big at the beginning of the crisis

In these categories, marketing apps aren't going to be as straightforward as they once were. Marketers in these app categories need to step up their games to compete.

New brands can fast-forward their growth

Brands have to get customers to install, keep, and use their apps on their mobile devices. And even when a brand is already well established in its industry, there's no guarantee that's enough to compete and compel in the world of mobile.

Hungry challengers know that the app landscape is a much more open playing field than the brick and mortar retail space and sometimes bank their entire growth strategy on app adoption first. If they can get consumers to use their app, the business can branch out from there—so app marketing is not just a best practice, but a core strategy.

With more people downloading and using apps at this time, the opportunity for new brands to fast-track their success via the app channel during COVID-19 is a real trend. For challenger brands, this is an opportunity they must try to maximize—for category leaders, this is a threat to their dominance and they should combat these rivals with their own up-leveled app marketing program.

Unexpected trends that marketers should be aware of

With more app customers, marketers will need put more focus on monetizing them

Getting a consumer to download your app is one thing, but getting them to actually use it is another. While COVID-19 has driven more people to the mobile web, having more installs—generally the primary goal of marketing apps—is just the start. With most apps relying on in-app transactions to be profitable, driving engagement and usage must be an important focus.

So, of course, if your app doesn't get used, then it has zero value to your business. Apps shouldn't be marketed like a product with a one-time sale. Apps should be marketed like a subscription service which knows that it must keep hammering home the value to its audience for repeat purchases or like a restaurant that wants its customers to keep coming back to eat.

Marketers can use channels such as Search and Social advertising to retarget downloaders of their apps with "deep links" that take users to a specific page on a website or a precise location within an app. This can encourage re-installs and app usage. For example, game app marketers can let people know that new characters and playable levels have been recently added. Food delivery and retail apps can promote discounts and deals.

How to optimize Mobile Ad Placement

Ad placement also affects the extent to which we pay attention to ads. Eye tracking, which can measure how long a user spends with an ad, among other things, shows that formats presented prior to content consumption that do not startle or interrupt the user experience -- such as pre-roll ads -- are watched for longer periods of time (8.5 seconds) compared to in-stream formats, which are viewed for shorter amounts of time (4.4 seconds).

Of the in-stream ads, pop-ups were the most disruptive and had the lowest viewing time of all (2.5 seconds). For pre-roll ads, the combination of an attenuated negative reaction paired with increased visual attention translates directly to behavioral outcomes -- more than one in four viewers who watched pre-roll ads have been reported to recall the brand and have positive perceptions about the ad's content. Meanwhile, 85% of viewers who saw mid-roll pop-up ads were the most likely to click on the ad to close it.

Incentivize viewing

While limiting disruption during delivery can improve ad effectiveness, incentives often can enhance it even further. In this way, payoff ads, an opt-in version of a pre-roll ad in which users are offered monetary incentive to engage or participate, are a highly effective delivery format for marketers to use when strategizing how best to share content and engage with consumers on mobile.

When consumers are given a cash ($0.25) incentive to open an ad, eye tracking reveals that they spend more time with the ad and facial coding shows they smile more and produce increased positive emotions while viewing. Galvanic skin response (GSR), a measure of skin conductance (i.e., sweat) that reflects physiological arousal, can also demonstrate the emotional salience of an incentive; non-incentivized pre-roll ads showed a decrease in GSR amplitude, corresponding to a decrease in arousal, compared to pre-roll ads that provide cash for clicking. The motivational support that incentives provide help to enhance consumers' level of attention and engagement, and even generate intent or willingness to purchase.

Giving Consumers the power of choice

Consumers today not only want concise interactions with ads, but also choice and control over what ads they view and how they view them. When this choice or agency is removed from a consumer's ad experience, neuroscience research has found that it decreases the valuations of both the advertisement itself and the content in which it is featured.

When presented with an ad that has no user volition, such as an automatically played pop-up ad or an in-stream ad, consumers only watch 25% of the ad compared to 45% for consumers given the option to "click to play" the ad. Autoplay ads also decreased the amount of smile behaviors shown by users compared to click-to-play ads, and users were also more likely to close the ad if it was presented without volition (54% of participants compared to 27% that were shown click-to-play ads).

These experiences translate directly to participants' brand recall and even follow-up avoidance behaviors: users shown autoplayed ads often have a harder time recalling the brand and have even shown a willingness to pay for advertisement-blocking software just so they don't encounter that ad again.

Despite knowing this, several delivery strategies adopted by the industry continue to remove consumers' abilities to opt in or out of viewing an ad. Instead of continuing to leverage these kinds of ineffective strategies, marketers should look to keep, or even add, user volition.

While it may sound counterintuitive, providing consumers a choice in their advertising experience can improve it. Click-to-play ads, which yield high brand recognition and attention, are a case in point.

As the shift to mobile continues (and accelerates as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic), marketers have a responsibility to send the right content to the right consumer in the right way. With technology and research methods that tap into consumer behavior, marketers can do just that. They can employ strategies that are at the heart of decision making, and not only provide consumers with positive advertising experiences, but essentially fulfill relatively every novel KPI in the ad industry, including eyeballs on execution, positive emotional experience, and motivation to engage.


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