How’s Your Buying Funnel Lookin’?


As with any digital commerce venue, it’s natural that there are a lot more people who install an app than actually transact in it, whether for virtual goods in a game, or real world goods in a retail app. Our task as marketers is to improve the number of people who do transact, which means increasing the number of people that pass through every buying stage to get to that finish line.

We all know that buyers do not follow a linear path as they move from being unaware to transacting. There are lots of visual depictions of this free-form customer journey, and these have value as ways of helping us understand how many touch points can impact a purchase. At Apsalar we agree that customer journeys are not linear, but I hope you’ll allow us to use the buying funnel analogy for a few moments, to illustrate some important ideas on how to improve and ultimately maximize in-app sales.

Because of our unique viewpoint into the buying processes of so many mcommerce retailers, we see patterns in how and where app publishers limit their own success by tolerating bottlenecks in their conversion processes. Here are four illustrations that summarize some of the patterns we see in mcommerce app businesses, along with some ideas on how to address each challenge/opportunity.

1. The Dream Funnel


Now here’s an example of a buying funnel that most of us would love to have. It’s pretty big, and appears to carry a large number of people to the purchase/customer stage. Naturally any buyer path like this will thin out a bit as we move from awareness to the thank you page, but brands with funnels that look like this have clearly done a good job of ensuring a good customer experience at every stage, and prudent marketing investment to drive engagement and intent after the install. You goal here, if you have a buying funnel like this, is to make incremental improvement in the number of people that enter the funnel.

There’s no magic percentage of people who should go from installers to engagers to purchase intenders to transactors. It varies markedly but category and other business characteristics. But it’s often easy to identify areas to focus on by studying the number of people who get to each stage. After all, the wider we can make each ring in the funnel, the better off we’ll be.

2. The Blown-Out Umbrella Funnel

Blown-Out  Umbrella Funnel

Now THIS is an all too common funnel shape that we see in the mcommerce app category. Lots of mcommerce companies spend most or all of their money on acquiring installs. Problem is, when you do that, you don’t have resources to drive engagement, intent or purchase. mCommerce app revenue tends NOT to follow the Field of Dreams model – just because they install it, that’s no reason to assume that they will buy.

Your app is competing with dozens of others for attention on a device, along with brick and mortar retail and web stores. To say nothing of myriad other distractions and impediments.

At Apsalar we are seeing more and more companies which start with a funnel like this are gradually shifting some of their budget to post-install marketing. Remarketing to users is showing great ROI impact, because it drives trial and keeps an app top-of-mind. What’s great about retargeting today is that it is actually possible to package up segments of your users into audiences for waste free marketing.

Apsalar Audiences for Facebook is our first offering in this area, and it is showing great results for customers. With this new offering, you can define user segments and export the device advertising IDs with a single click to Facebook Ads Manager for use as Facebook custom Audiences. In-app events can be used as triggers for marketing automation and CRM platforms, so retargeting should not be construed as just a banner ad thing.

But you should also think more broadly than just immediate triggers. Triggers can be incredibly powerful for remarketing – an example would be outreach to cart abandoners in the first few moments after they abandon. But not every great remarketing opportunity comes from responding to an event trigger. For example, a remarketing effort to lapsed buyers (have not transacted in N days) might have remarkable ROI value.

There’s no universal formula for the perfect split between acquisition and engagement marketing. It’s going to vary by brand. It comes down digital’s oldest mantra: test/run/adjust.

3. The “Where is it?” Funnel


While less common than the blown out umbrella, the “Where is it?” funnel remains all too common in our industry today. The funnel shape is right, but it’s limited by a tiny install base. The principal culprit here appears to be very high development costs. Particularly when brands engage with agencies that don’t have app development as a core competency, a huge portion of the total app investment budget can go to (inefficiently) creating the app. One senior marketing leader that I know says that the key reason why their brand apps never really got traction was that 80-90% of the money spent on building the thing, and almost nothing on making it stand out in a space with some 1,499,999 competitors. Even the best-designed app will fail if no one is aware of it or installs it.

4. The “Bulging” Funnel

Bulging Funnel

The core idea behind this funnel – that everything looks good until the moment of transaction – is something that quite a few companies struggle with. One situation that can cause a big issue here is when app users must leave the app and go to a mobile web buying experience. Companies do this for a variety of reasons – a desire not to pay Apple 30%, perceived security concerns, etc. – but when you make it hard for people to buy, you often will find it hard to get buyers.

Thanks for indulging us in the illustrative value of the buying funnel to communicate some simple truths about the app industry. The point of this post was to use these iconic visuals to illustrate the need for several things:

Robust third-party measurement at all stages of engagement/involvement. Without it you cannot analyze your customer experience and identify the bottleneck spots to focus on first.

Measurement of a broad range of consumer event types. If you rely solely on revenue measurement, you’ll know what you sold, but not why or how. Indeed, one of the reasons why we don’t charge more for measurement of more events to encourage people to get ALL the data that they require. Only then can they derive maximum value from a mobile app attribution and measurement platform.

The will to dig into the data. Info is as info does, and you need to actually dig into the data about your user experience in order to get value from it.

Staying focused on incremental improvement. The old school way of addressing marketing/brand problems – a long planning stage followed by one big initiative – isn’t ideal for apps. Rather, focusing on incremental fixes to your most pressing challenges enables you to get better results more quickly, and to focus on the biggest limiting factors first. It’s a corollary to the “minimum viable product” approach that is helping start-ups find their way faster.

The most important thing you can do is to take actions that make your app better at creating buyers today than it was yesterday. And the best way to do that is to focus first on your biggest bottlenecks/growth opps.



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