Scott Stanchak, Director, Mobile Marketing at The New York Times, will be a moderator at one of Mobile Summit’s boardroom sessions titled “How to best measure mobile user acquisition costs and ROI.”  Taking place February 23 and 24, these intimate and closed-door sessions bring together just 20-30 senior-level execs who tackle the most urgent mobile issues in off-the-record discussion and debate. 

Just how valuable is a download?

For me, it’s not worth much. Instead, it’s the action that takes place after the download where the price tag can be hung.

Since I began leading mobile marketing efforts for major companies, I’ve come across many individuals who look at a download as the sole indicator of an app’s success. That’s probably because the term “download” is what’s most associated with a mobile app. But unless your app is paid-to-download, a plethora of installs means nothing without those users completing your desired action.

I’m well aware that download volume and velocity are both influential in the app store algorithm. That success on the charts, however, is often short-lived without money being spent on marketing acquisition campaigns to maintain positioning. And if money is being spent on a campaign, you can bet that the goal will be to turn those dollars into even more dollars.

Even a burst campaign, where you pay for mass amounts of cheap downloads to drive ranking in the app store, is more about achieving a desired action than those downloads themselves. The goal behind that improved ranking is to obtain incremental organic downloads, which are typically more profitable, which will hopefully result in your intended action.

The action          

What is your “action?” That’s a question I often ask when presenting or speaking to others in the mobile marketing space.

At The New York Times, my primary actionable objective is a subscription. At Avis Budget Group, that action was a car rental reservation. For Winery Passport, it’s to get a user to certify their passport through an in-app purchase. The intent of every dollar I’ve spent on marketing campaigns over the years has been with the intent of prospecting for subscribers, renters, and purchasers.

No matter what your action is, it has to have an assigned value. The reason is simple: determining ROI. All those actions I mentioned had obvious monetary values. But there is also a number you can assign to a user who isn’t paying for a service or product.

Your desired primary action from a prospect in your company is likely different — a registration, email sign-up, additional article read, etc. Collectively, knowing what a user is worth in each of those scenarios helps not only justify a business case for incremental marketing dollars, but is also essential to understanding ROI if your primary action isn’t met.

Measuring your action

Several years ago the only data point you could measure with an app install campaign was click-thru. Outside of that, you’d get supporting data from Apple, Google, or any third-party analytics tool. But that data didn’t communicate with the campaign, making it impossible to tie a click-thru to a specific download to an event in the app.

Thankfully, those days are long gone. Third-party companies have come up with solutions to measure marketing campaigns from click to action, and a lot of other events in between.

Here’s how it works: A user clicks on a campaign and their device ID is stored by one of these companies. When that same user launches the app, an SDK reads the device ID and sees if it is tied to any campaign. If it’s a match, you now have your one-to-one. You can now track what that same user does in the app, including if they make a purchase.

There should be zero marketing that links to the app stores that isn’t being tracked using one of these providers, regardless if it’s owned or paid media. Just like referral source is valuable on the Web, it’s even more valuable on mobile.

By measuring your mobile app campaigns’ success to your intended actions, you’ll be able to make smarter decisions. You’ll adjust campaign spending and network placement. This will allow you to get a better return on your investment, which means more downloads and actionable users for the same amount of money.

The funnel will be smaller at the top, but the return will be greater at the bottom. It’s at the bottom where the download becomes most valuable.

More details on the boardroom sessions can be found on the event’s agenda page. Space is extremely limited — we’ve only got seats for a total of 180 executives — but it’s not too late to apply for one of the remaining seats.

Scott Stanchak is the Director, Mobile Marketing at The New York Times. Previously, he led mobile marketing and product strategy for Avis Budget Group. Stanchak is also the creator of the Winery Passport app for iOS and Android and writes about mobile marketing on his website, Follow him on Twitter @ScottStanchak.