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Mobile Advertising: A Primer

Published: January 18, 2016

Author: Will Aronson

Despite the universal growth in mobile activity, for many direct response or performance marketers, mobile has remained an afterthought.  Historically, direct response marketing on mobile devices has often yielded inefficiencies that make it hard to justify investing there.  However, things are rapidly changing.  With the growth of the app economy – now just about everyone has an app – improved mobile sites and experiences, and improved analytics and tracking, even performance marketers are dipping their toes in the mobile waters.
Senior Airman Daniel Burkhardt and Staff Sgt. Christopher Bevins, both Air Force broadcast journalists currently supporting Joint Task Force – National Capital Region, a task force of Department of Defense military and civilian personnel stood up in support of the 57th Presidential Inauguration, put the finishing touches on a cellphone application Jan. 14 that they designed from the ground up to provide real time information on the historic event. Burkhardt and Bevins have come from 11th Wing Public Affairs on their home station, Joint Base Andrews, Md. Their app, called “Inauguration,” was released by Apple Inc. Jan. 14 and is currently available through the corporation’s App Store. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Christopher M. Gaylord, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment)
For those getting ready to dive in, I’m here to tell you that it’s not as treacherous a place as it once was. Let’s break down the core strategic and tactical considerations when looking to move into the mobile advertising space. For the purposes of this exercise, we’re going to assume the mobile site and/or app experience is up to snuff. (It goes without saying that before considering significant mobile advertising, a mobile-optimized site and user-friendly experience should be ensured.)

Set the Right Goals

It’s obvious, but sometimes overlooked in the panic to be mobile-ready: your first consideration for any mobile activity should always be your goals. What are you looking to accomplish? Are you looking for an app install?  A purchase? A map view?  This will dictate your mobile strategy.
It’s important to think of mobile as a separate experience altogether, not just simply as an extension of your pre-existing desktop activity. People use mobile devices in many different ways than they use their laptop computers, and while users expect a consistent experience across those platforms, mobile success is not as easy as copying your desktop strategy and expecting it to work on a radically different consumption platform. Mobile needs its own approach.
Next up is evaluation: how will you assess your mobile performance? We won’t get into the sizable topic of attribution here, but it’s important to consider how your mobile goals might differ from your desktop goals.  Standard analytics platforms like Google Analytics or Omniture can be helpful for looking at some basic attribution-related reports, and we’re seeing a larger use of the cross-device conversion metric in AdWords.
As conversion rates still are not on par with desktops, it’s probably not feasible to hold your mobile performance to the same ROI or cost per acquisition standards as your core desktop activity, and in doing so you’ll likely be disappointed, at least in the short term.  In addition to assessing how users behave on other devices after engaging with mobile, look to identify secondary or tertiary actions that have value – things like phone calls or newsletter signups – and incorporate those actions into the way you evaluate your mobile performance.

Select Your Networks

Once you have determined your goals and KPIs, the next step is determining where you will run your activity. There is a large, growing list of networks out there – many that are mobile-specific, such as inMobi, TapJoy, and AdMob, and others that are mobile portions of larger social networks (the usual suspects: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter).
There are various considerations for where to run your mobile activity, so revisit your goals before you make a decision. Different networks are better fits for different goals.  For example, we see strong app install performance on the social networks, and Facebook in particular.  Those networks can also offer better targeting, with granular interest targeting and powerful lookalike audiences.
Ease of setup and launch is something to consider as well. Though many mobile networks will require new accounts to be set up, IOs to be signed, and pixels to be placed, networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and AdMob can be easier to start with, as campaigns can be launched from within existing accounts using the same UI and billing, and even existing tracking and creative can be used in many cases.
Ad formats and industry are other considerations.  Certain networks offer more unique, rich ad formats that might be more appealing for certain companies, and certain networks work better for particular types of businesses.  TapJoy, for example, is very popular with gaming apps.
To start, we typically recommend experimenting with some of the more popular, lower-barrier-to-entry networks such as AdMob and Facebook, and then test into new mobile networks from there.  Ultimately though, there are many different options that can be the right fit.

Check and Double-Check Your Tracking

Once you’ve determined your goals and networks, it’s important to make sure you can properly track your activity.  Tracking will differ whether you are using a mobile site or a mobile app.
With a mobile site, tracking should be similar to desktop sites. Conversion and remarketing pixels can be placed on confirmation pages. Mobile sites will often use the same URLs as desktop sites, meaning new pixels will not need to be placed for mobile tracking, as conversions will already be tracked with existing pixels.
With a mobile app, new pixels will need to be placed. In the app world, the SDK (Software Development Kit) is the key to tracking.  Think of it as a more advanced conversion pixel, but for an app. With proper setup, it can track anything from a simple app install and open to more complex in-app actions such as a signup, a form fill, a purchase, or a phone call.  Be sure to take advantage of the in-app tracking capabilities of the SDK – even if you aren’t tracking core KPIs, it can shed valuable light on your app and how users are engaging with it.  Each channel should provide an SDK for installation in the app – for iOS and Android – along with guidance for how to tweak it to track various in-app events.
Mobile tracking platforms such as Tune, Kochava, or AppsFlyer can help simplify the process, as they typically offer SDKs that integrate directly with popular ad networks such as Google or Facebook. Be sure to review the specifics of your mobile tracking platform to understand which other SDKs you may or may not have to place.  In certain cases you will need to place more than one pixel – for example, Tune is a popular platform that does not currently integrate with Facebook, so the Facebook SDK needs to be placed in addition to the Tune SDK.
Plan Your Creative
Now that you have your goals, tracking, and launch plan in place, the final step is to develop creative. This is another huge topic, but we’ll just skim the surface here. Your creative needs are going to depend both on the networks you plan to advertise on and the goals you have set.  Once you’ve determined where you’ll run your activity, get an understanding of the ad formats and sizes that are possible with each network.  Though there is a relatively common set of ad sizes across mobile networks, there can be subtle differences, especially with regards to richer ad formats.
Most standard creative best practices hold true for mobile: keep copy concise, include a clear and punchy call-to-action, create a sense of urgency if possible, etc. However, there are some ways to further distinguish your ads on mobile devices. Imagery can be even more powerful on mobile devices than on desktops as you have less space to explain your product, and after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Consider using (or testing) video where possible.  We consistently see strong performance with video, as it is a quick and easy way to explain your product and drives more engagement than other formats – it’s really a type of media perfectly suited for mobile.
And understandably, your ad copy and content will differ depending on your goals.  If you are looking for an app install, for example, showing imagery within the app can be powerful, while displaying product images can work well for ecommerce.
Ultimately, my best advice is to test, test, test.  It’s unlikely that your first set of creative is going to be the best, so develop a plan for continual iteration and ongoing testing. This will ensure that you are always driving improvement and growth.

Set Your Targeting and Prepare to Launch

Finally, the core pieces are all in place to launch.  Determine your targeting, and you’re good to go!  We typically recommend casting a wider net from the start, and homing in on more granular segments as you gather data on which audiences are responding best.  I also recommend taking advantage of lookalike targeting using first-party data whenever possible – this typically provides the strongest performance.
Though the process for getting going on mobile is slightly different from launching on desktops, once you are up and running, standard optimization tactics kick in. Remember to always look out for new testing opportunities and new areas for exploration; remaining open to this is the key to success in a mobile landscape that is growing quickly and constantly changing as new technologies and user behaviors emerge.
Though for many it’s unchartered territory, with the growth of mobile usage over desktops, it’s becoming more of a necessity for performance marketers to move into the mobile space.  Ultimately, though, the process for getting started is straightforward and relatively uncomplicated, and the potential gains from doing so should outweigh any potential downsides. So dive in!

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