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The question as old as time: how do I prove my worth? We ask it of ourselves before a job interview, before a date, before the first day at a new job. The anxiety (lo—the disease!) of needing to prove our worth has begun to take on the world of mobile.

This anxiety is largely due to the increasing cost of mobile user acquisition: current predictions are that costs will double in the next year. Unfortunately, this makes a lot of sense; with new apps flooding the market each day, companies are having to funnel more and more revenue into grabbing users: “A few years ago, mobile publishers could acquire new users at around $1. Last year, many apps were on-boarding quality users for at and around $2. Now however many of the top apps are spending between $4 and $10 to acquire new users, with spikes up to $20 and $30.”

This trend makes it clear that apps will have to engage the user faster, and hook them harder.

On the other hand, it’s become clear that users are now spending less time and more money in games. (Wouldn’t it be cool if we could buy our way to a more successful first date?) “Gamers are spending more money than time to effectively beat games or secure better standings rather than working their way to the top,” said Khalaf. “This explains the decline in time spent and the major rise in in-app purchases, as Apple saw a record $1.7 billion in App Store sales in July.”

But the lion’s share of this figure goes to miniscule portion of the apps out there, the Candy Crushes, et al. If you’re one of the lucky few, and you can get past the thought of user acquisition doubling, you may be in for greater revenue in the long term.

Now that costs of user acquisition could double in the next year, app developers are stricken with this, let’s call it, “first-date anxiety.” Because let’s face it—for every app that succeeds, there’s an extremely similar version of the same idea that fails. The difference between what works and what doesn’t often boils down to customer service, and the channel of communication between user and app developer.

Essentially, customers want two things: to be heard, and to be amazed. When they have an issue, they want it resolved. And after a year of using the app, they want things to have grown and improved. It’s like the development of intimacy in any relationship. What builds intimacy is trust, and nothing builds trust like knowing your needs will be met by a reliable partner. You want, at once, to be continually impressed the longer you know your partner, and you want to be able to express your needs and problems, and get them met and resolved. No bad surprises, only good ones: It’s every person’s dream in a long-term relationship, but between mobile and customer, it should be law. The user should feel safe and supported, but still be excited as the relationship progresses and deepens.

The reality is, the future of mobile user acquisition is uncertain. To remain successful and retain users, app companies are going to have to be deep listeners and quick responders. Users are the best tools that we have, so why not use them?

Published November 13, 2015
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