The Evolution of In-App Performance Marketing: How to Run Smart Ad Campaigns Today


Srinivas KC

Sep 19, 2019

In-app advertising is the most effective yet nuanced aspect of app marketing. The best way to measure success from your in-app performance advertising campaigns has changed a lot over the past few years, and continues to evolve rapidly.

The in-app performance space has changed dramatically, not only since InMobi’s founding in 2007, but since my first days at InMobi in 2011, to helping launch our performance-centric DSP earlier this year.

In The Beginning

In 2011, what did your performance marketing campaigns look like? Chances are you were focused on one of two objectives:

  1. Maximizing total reach and trying to get in front of as many people as possible.
  2. Scoring a viral hit and riding the wave of that initial bump.

In the early days of smartphone adoption and penetration in the U.S., the bulk of apps being marketed were ones with catch-all appeal, including viral gaming hits like Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja, common utility apps like Google Maps and popular social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. Those top apps can easily appeal to everyone, so when marketing those kinds of apps why limit your scope?

Further, the barrier to entry for new apps was much lower then. Since just about all apps were new apps, consumers were more likely to download and try out new apps. They likely weren’t close to hitting their threshold.

Part of this push for scale was also a product of marketers’ mindsets and approaches. What I mean is, in the early days of mobile and apps, marketers took their know-how from the web world and ported it over to mobile apps. For instance, on the creative side, they were well-versed in scaling through standardized banner placements, so that’s what became ubiquitous in the early days of mobile app advertising.

What You Need Today

Performance marketers became significantly more data and ROI-driven over time, and this was compounded by a change in market dynamics.

For one, user acquisition has gotten more expensive. Most of our customers strive to be smarter about advertising due to budgetary restrictions and ROI goals. Even those with deep pockets will struggle due to the growing barrier to entry (i.e. the costs around customer acquisition and return on ad spend).

As a result, you’re now better off using specific partners specialized to meet all of your overall performance needs. The days of lots of generalists are behind us. The best campaigns I see use specific partners for scale/reach, retargeting/remarketing, interest/engagements, installs/UA, etc.

Ultimately, for any performance solution to succeed, it needs to differentiate itself, which is why choosing performance ad partners based on these four types of assets makes the most sense to me:

  1. Supply that can’t be found anywhere else. For example, Facebook and Google have supply (and associated audiences) not found anywhere else.
  2. Data assets that improve targeting and efficient spends, like telco-grade location data.
  3. Effective measurement and tracking across your customer’s touchpoints, particularly for brands that need to drive in-store actions.
  4. Creative and ad experience assets that provide a seamless and memorable experience for end users.

Any ad tech platform an app marketer uses should bring something unique or some specialization to the table on at least one of these aspects.

Creative Differentiators with Creatives

You need specialized creatives for specialized needs. Banners are great for reach, while videos help generate interest/engagement and rich media ads spur downloads/installs. The key is to balance everything, and to leverage the right creatives for the right moments.

For example, while vertical video ads with interactive endcards may be a lot more expensive than standard banners, they tend to yield better results; according to InMobi’s 2019 Mobile Programmatic Advertising Trends report, video ads have click-through rates that are 10x better than banner ad CTRs on average while also having improved downstream conversion metrics. To maximize results, budget and reach, a brand can use banners to get its name out there, and then deploy videos strategically to only select audiences to drive further interest and engagement.

It’s also important to connect media with measurement. While just about everyone can offer both when they’re happening in the same place, what happens when different environments are involved? For instance, measuring the effectiveness of in-app media when you’re measuring results from apps, what happens when you want to see how in-app media is driving in-store actions or signups from a webpage?

Where Are Things Progressing?

Perhaps the biggest trends we’re seeing that will only become more pronounced over time is the growing importance of data quality. As the “spray and pray” approach becomes less effective by the hour, brands need to be much smarter about who sees specific ads when. Without quality, reliable data to utilize in targeting and outreach, marketers are stuck wasting money and just hoping for the best.

When it comes to the players in the app performance space, expect further consolidation. We’re entering a world of specialization, where the catch-all/reach/omnichannel players simply won’t be able to compete. Marketers are increasingly focused on revenue and hard metrics, and often these specialized players are the only ones capable or meeting these kinds of highly specific needs. And, expect legacy desktop/browser bad habits to finally fall by the wayside.

Srinivas KC

Srinivas KC is the VP and GM of InMobi DSP. He heads the global performance business for InMobi. He is based in San Francisco, and has been at InMobi since 2011. Prior to this role, Srinivas led strategy and business finance for InMobi’s global publisher business. Before InMobi, Srinivas was part of the leadership team at Capillary Technologies, an Indian SaaS startup, and a consultant in the Technology Sector at Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific. Srinivas is a global citizen, having traveled to over 30 countries, and worked in over 10 countries including the U.S., South/Southeast Asia and China. He holds an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and a Bachelor’s degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.