Mobile app marketing is ultra-competitive right now, as teams are tasked with intense goals like “generate 1 million users ASAP!”

With that sense of urgency, growth, and popularity in the space, an influx of “marketing help” for mobile app marketers has emerged. That help comes in the form of paid software vendors and analytics solutions, marketing agencies, conferences, case studies, content, blogs, etc.

But what’s really working? Furthermore, how do we separate hype from truth?

In a recent Mobile User Acquisition report compiled by VB’s John Koetsier, marketers listed their 16 top user acquisition tactics, shown below:

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What sticks out here? Three things should stand out when looking at this chart.

1. It takes more than just social

Data: Social media is the most effective ad channel for only 14.8 percent of marketers.

Meaning: There’s no question that paid social is a crucial part of mobile app marketing (and according to Koetsier’s report, it is the leader), but it’s important to remember it’s not the only part of your marketing strategy. And 85.2 percent of the time, it’s not the most effective channel.

2. The focus on digital ad spend is still forming

Data: Of the 16 user acquisition channels listed in Koetsier’s chart above, 8 of the tactics (7 if you discount “other”) can be executed without paid ads (Incentivized installs, ASO, Email, PR, In-app viral tactics, Web organic search, Offer walls, Other). Another way to consider the data here is to note that 50.8 percent of marketers agree that a non-paid marketing tactic is their most effective user acquisition strategy.

Meaning: Numerous reports would have marketers believing that the answer to mobile app success is paid spend. While “paid” certainly helps fuel growth and should be a core focus, it’s not the only way, and it is one component of an overall marketing mix. For instance, look at the first two leading acquisition strategies in Koetsier’s chart. According to the data, 26.8 percent of marketers say that paid on either social or video is their most effective channel. But the next four tactics (incentivized, ASO, email, PR) represent 33.6 percent of marketers and are all non-paid ad tactics.

*Three things to highlight about this section: First, remember that this chart is representative of digital only, and thus tactics such as TV are not included. Second, this chart asked marketers what their most effective tactic was; hence, there are other marketing tactics not listed here. Third, just because a tactic doesn’t require paid ad budget in no way means it’s free — it often needs budget, employee/agency salaries, or both.

3. Marketing is repeating itself

Data: Marketers are investing in paid and organic, as represented in Koetsier’s report.

Meaning: We’re in the age of mobile, and things are only getting more competitive, especially with mobile ad spending heading north of $100 billion next year.


As more focus is shifting to mobile, three types of marketing teams are emerging, or re-emerging.

First, there are the teams that solely believe in organic, similar to the Inbound/Content Marketing movement that rose a few years ago. Second, there are the teams that spend the majority of their time focused on paid ads (especially if they’re a recently funded startup or an innovative brand with budget). The third type of team, which is the leader, is the one to invest in a balanced strategy of paid and organic. Does this strive for balance sound familiar? It should, because it’s quite similar to the way we saw digital marketing emerge, grow, and ultimately manifest itself from past to present.

The best marketing teams in the world today aren’t the ones that focus on organic OR paid acquisition tactics, but rather the ones that have a balanced combination of paid AND organic down to a science. It will be these teams that we’ll look back on in a few short years (when we’ve all moved on to wearables marketing) and say, “They were the winners of the mobile era.”

Dan Slagen is VP of marketing at, the marketing insights search engine.

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