It's no secret that ads are crucial for user acquisition and brand awareness; they're a tried and true strategy for pulling in new cohorts, driving traffic and increasing conversions. When companies are playing the long game, though, do ads bring in the most valuable users for their businesses?
Clicks and app installs are only as interesting and actionable as the stories behind them. It's meaningful to know whether a person installed an app after seeing a paid, targeted advertising campaign or if he or she tried it without first viewing any ad.In the second case, the individual can be said to have arrived at the application organically, meaning he or she heard some information on the radio or from a friend or simply searched in an app store by topic. My company, Mixpanel, decided to investigate advertisement efficacy and shed a little light on whether app users prompted by ads are more or less engaged than those who organically select them.
In March, I along with other Mixpanel researchers analyzed anonymous data about the app usage of 400,000 individuals, who all had downloaded social, messaging and gaming apps on mobile devices. We looked at the patterns of addiction and retention by those users who had come to try the apps after viewing mobile ads and pitted their behavior against the people who had arrived organically. (Addiction is defined as a measurement of how many unique days a user spends on an app within a designated time frame and can also be measured on an hours-per-day basis. The more unique days that a person spends with an app, the more addicted he or she is considered.)
What we found was a clear and intuitive narrative that speaks to the role of mobile advertising in the life cycle of a user. When it came to addiction, there was a very slim difference between organic and ad-driven users. In the two weeks following app installation, both organic and ad-driven users showed the most activity on just a single day, with few being engaged for two or more days. Organic users proved to be only minutely more addicted than their ad-acquired counterparts, but the margin was incredibly thin. For apps where the revenue model is pay-to-play, drawing in one-day users isn't a terrible thing. On the flip side, apps that offer a freemium model can't rely on these customers coming back to drive more business.
The classic measurement of how sticky an app is is, of course, retention. To see how organic users and ad-acquired users behaved over the long run, we compared their retention over an eight-week period. Organic users beat out ad-acquired users by a sizeable margin. About 17 percent of organic users were retained for eight weeks, compared to just 10 percent of ad-acquired customers.
For most app companies, building a base of customers who are addicted and will stick around is obviously ideal; the best kind of growth is sustained over time, with the assumption that the longer consumers stick around, the more valuable they will become. What our data shows is that the platonic ideal of a customer base -- that of highly addicted, highly retained, active and loyal group of consumers -- is more likely to be built from organic users, not those drawn in by ads. See our research outlined in the following infographic: