One of our sellers recently had a conversation with a prospect who asked whether they needed a mobile app measurement solution, or a mobile app attribution solution. Apparently they had been talking to different vendors who used different terms to describe their offerings.
As we all know, digital vernacular goes in and out of favor, and the terms used to describe tools and platforms often evolve quickly. Particularly in the realm of start-ups, product names often bear little relationship to the core value proposition of the products offered. A term becomes hot and so every company slaps the hot word into their name or value proposition.
…in the cloud, anyone?
The thing is, words do matter, especially when they have such different meanings as do mobile app attribution and mobile app measurement. The distinction between mobile app measurement and attribution seemed fundamental enough that it warranted a blog post. So here goes.
The Changing World of Mobile App Customer and Marketing Data and Measurement
Over the last several years, that bar as regards what constitutes an effective mobile marketing program has risen a great deal. And that is a very good thing. According to data from Nielsen and others, as recently as a couple of years ago, most mobile campaigns – if they were measured at all – were measured by whether or not they ran, not whether or not they had an impact on sales or engagement or awareness or whatever.
On the mobile app side of the business, however, things were never so squishy. From the beginning, app marketers have cared about hard metrics like installs and cost per install. Install performance was the core KPI of Android and iOS app marketing. So mobile app measurement has always been more specific and accurate than measurement for other types of mobile advertising. And surely this is a contributing factor as to why dollars have flowed into mobile advertising for app campaigns far faster than for other types of mobile advertising.
But no matter. Mobile app attribution is the term that is most often applied to such app metrics. It’s about giving credit for desired actions to vendors.
- How effective was partner or campaign X at driving Y installs?
- Who gets to charge the client for an install?
- Should I invest more money in vendor B, or vendor C?
All valuable things to measure. But as more and more advertisers have realized that installs are only the first of many steps to build a robust app business, the focus of app data strategy has expanded from the narrow arena of install attribution. What does that mean, exactly?
Mobile App Attribution
Mobile app attribution tools were first developed primarily for the gaming industry. They were created to help marketers assess the relative effectiveness of media vendors and programs at driving installs.
In the early days, the mobile app industry was essentially a gaming-driven business. Most game companies cared primarily or exclusively about installs, so the need for precise measurement beyond this basic action was fairly minimal. And while installation is a consumer activity, most users of mobile app attribution cared less about understanding the person’s action and motivation and more about understanding which media vendors were most effective and efficient at driving such a consumer action.
Attribution is about attributing installs and other consumer actions to vendors so that marketers have a yardstick by which to compare their vendors and allocate marketing dollars. Further, most Android and iPhone app games aren’t all that focused on monetizing typical users. While many app-based games offered purchasable virtual goods, few game developers expect more than a tiny percentage of users to buy them.
This isn’t like a retail business, where the goal is to drive lots and lots of shoppers to become buyers. In fact, some have argued that game marketing is really more about generating a crescendo of hype than it is building a brand or business in the classical marketing sense. For that sort of business, extensive application analytics aren’t critical. What those marketers needed to understand was vendor effectiveness, not so much user behavior.
Attribution versus Measurement: Partners versus People
One heuristic for understanding the difference between attribution and measurement is that the primary focus on attribution is one understanding vendors and their relative effectiveness at driving desired consumer actions like installs. By contrast, mobile app measurement and mobile app attribution are primarily focused on understanding consumer behavior and the factors that drive it.
Differentiated in that context, it becomes easier to understand why mobile app marketers focused first on attribution metrics, and then expanded their interests to encompass measures of in-app customer behavior.
Mobile App Measurement
But as the world of mobile apps has broadened, so too have marketer demands for quantitative insights into their app businesses.
One of the biggest changes in the app space has been the growing share of apps focused on mcommerce – whose primary focus is to offer an app-based venue for selling goods. In this world, mobile app metrics that relate to installs have some importance – you can’t sell to someone in an app if they don’t install it. But installs are just a tiny component of what marketers want to understand. Rather, mobile marketing measurement and mobile marketing analytics have a much broader definition than attribution. Some of the most critical metrics in mobile app measurement include:
- Re-engagement metrics:Re-engagement is the fastest growing segment of mobile app marketing spending, and for good reasons. By targeting app users and driving them back to an app, you get them to re-engage and increase the importance of your app in that person’s perceptions. In a world where consumers download about 100 apps but only regularly use 12-15, this kind of mobile app insight is absolutely critical for an mcommerce app business to succeed.
- Granular iPhone and Android App User Behaviors: Lots of steps are required for a person to progress from installing an app and transacting. With in-app analytics and measurement, we measure the extent to which an individual has taken the required steps by charting their progress at completing in-app user actions (or “events”.) Different events demonstrate the metaphorical distance between a user and the transaction step.
With Apsalar Attribution Mobile App Measurement, we classify customer events into four broad buckets:
- Authentication events that help the marketer understand which individual has installed and loaded an app.
- Engagement events tell the marketer what sorts of early-in-the-buying process the user has taken. For example, if a consumer searches for a category of products, or has visited web pages about a particular brand or category, we consider those actions engagement events. Broadly, mobile app measurement related to these actions corresponds to “top-of-the-funnel” steps.
- Intent events show that customer is moving close to pulling the trigger on a purchase. When someone puts an item into a shopping cart, or chooses a color or size, or begins the buying process, we consider those “intent events.” These are “mid-funnel” events in the marketing funnel parlance.
- Conversion or Transaction events, which occur when someone has made a purchase.
Thus, the developers of mobile measurement solutions need to consider both real-time analytics and the ability to create high performance audiences in batches for future marketing efforts at scale.
- Business analytics measures.These metrics help you understand things like the lifetime value of a customer, or the average order value, or average number of purchases for a time period, etc. These sorts of numbers are absolutely essential to understanding a mobile app business.
Mobile Attribution: What’s in a Name?
Understanding the difference between mobile attribution and analytics/measurement shouldn’t feel like a pedantic exercise. Ultimately, every marketer needs to determine their current and future data and measurement needs. And vendors need to mirror those efforts with offerings and product roadmaps.
Some app businesses, whether games or retailers, start with a data strategy focused on just a few attribution metrics, and finding the lowest cost vendor to offer them. What many of these brands realize later, however, is that their interest (and need for) genuine user and customer insight quickly outgrows the capabilities of the lowest cost providers.
Apsalar Attribution: Mobile App Attribution AND Mobile App Measurement
At Apsalar, we’ve always believed that Mobile Attribution tools needed to deliver on the current AND future needs of our customers. In Apsalar Attribution, we deliver a more comprehensive offering than many of the first generation app attribution platforms, which were built for the gaming industry. Our offering combines all key attribution measures with fully customizable event tracking so that you can understand all aspects of your buyer conversion funnel. To understand where the bottlenecks in your app customer flow are holding your sales back.
We also offer more measures like AOV, ARPU, and the like that you can shape to the dynamics of your business. As any analytics platform should. For example, one app attribution platform purports to offer these metrics but only allows the customer to select a 30-day lookback window. Is 30 days really enough time to assess lifetime customer value? Of course not!
Going Bigger Than Attribution. And Bigger than Mobile App Measurement
As I mentioned earlier, any mobile app data solutions provider worth its salt must meet the current needs of its app developer and app publisher customers while also defining and delivering a product strategy that can anticipate and reflect their future needs. Many of the attribution providers are playing catchup on providing basic user behavior measurement. But what comes after that?
Mobile App Measurement as a Foundation for End-to-End App Data Management
As Apsalar assessed the future needs of its app marketer clients, it quickly became obvious to us that marketers would soon need tools and services that helped them make their attribution and measurement data immediately and directly actionable. That’s why our product development focus has been on providing mobile app analytics capabilities to process and segment users into high-performance audiences, and then safely and securely share those audiences with all digital execution platforms. End-to-end data management.
So Which DO You Need: Measurement or Attribution?
Yes. It’s not an either or. Both vendor-focused attribution measures and customer behavior measurement are essential to truly understanding an app business. You need both.
But you’ll also find that the names of different tools can be misleading. Attribution solutions sometimes have rich customer behavior measurement offerings. Like Apsalar Attribution does. Other platforms may use the term measurement in their names when they really mean attribution. What’s important here is that the tool you select offer both – coupled with the flexibility to shape them to the specifics of your business. This is definitely a situation where caveat emptor applies.