Your Guide to User Acquisition — Positioning Your Product [Chapter 1]

May 26, 2016

Enjoy this free preview of Intellectsoft’s upcoming guide to mobile application User Acquisition. In this first chapter we explore product positioning, the need to clarify your solution, and how to plot revenue and costs — all crucial parts of the staging for a successful user acquisition strategy.

What’s the best way to pitch a TechCrunch reporter? Which advertising platform delivers the strongest ROI? Who’s the best celebrity spokesperson you could sign for less than $10,000?

Those are all fine questions, but not the ones you need to answer first. Instead, we need to talk about something slightly less interesting but infinitely more important: your business plan.

Deep within that document lies everything you need to form the foundation of a successful user acquisition strategy.

Know Your Enemy

Every good story needs a villain. Without them, there would be no sinister force for the hero to fight against.

You may know your app is a hero at heart, but until you call out a specific enemy to oppose, you won’t attract any adoring fans to rally around its cause.

Getting back to business plans, your arch enemy is the root of the problem(s) your app solves. Busy schedules, complex processes, and limited access are just a few of the more common foes that heroic apps aim to defeat.  

Uber wages war on unpredictable taxi experiences. Evernote fights to eliminate forgotten ideas. Yelp banishes the nightmare of not knowing where to get good tacos at 11:00 PM in an unfamiliar city.

Some enemies are concrete and others are more abstract. All you need to worry about is opposing one that a significant audience is interested in defeating.

Anticipate Your Audience

Imagine the first 1,000 people who will download your app. Aside from family, friends, and co-workers, can you recognize any faces in the crowd? Probably not. But you probably do have a hunch about where they came from and what they value.

That hunch has no place in your business strategy, but it will put you on the path toward something that does: user personas. These semi-fictional narratives help sketch a more complete portrait of the people you primarily expect to enjoy your app.

We say semi-fictional because they should be born from market research and verified by user behavior as it becomes available. But to get the conversation started, answer these questions in as much detail as you can:

  • How old are your most likely users?
  • What is their educational/professional background?
  • What are their personal interests?
  • What are their digital habits?
  • What would they like your app to help them do? (Hint: Conquer the enemies!)

If you find that your audience is too broad to characterize in a single persona, feel free to expand as necessary. Plenty of great mobile apps attract a diverse user base. At this point, though, three personas or fewer is usually enough. Remember that you’ll continuously adapt your personas in response to new data.

clarify product before mobile user acquisition. Pool of clear water.

Clarify Your Solution

Now we’ve identified the enemy and the people at risk of feeling its wrath, remind us again, what makes you their hero?    

We’re sorry to be so blunt, but quiet confidence doesn’t work when you’re just getting started. Competitors are already out there promising your audience that they can save the day, and it’s your job to make it painfully clear why you’re the only answer in town.

We’re sure you have many glowing attributes to advertise, but do your best to boil them down to a single, simple, results-oriented statement. Not every app needs to be explained as the Netflix of This or the Uber of That, but you do need to speak in terms users value and understand.

Dropbox, for example, could walk through dozens of distinct features users might not know about. Instead, its homepage wisely greets users with a powerfully simple slogan:

“Get to all your files from anywhere, on any device, and share them with anyone.”

After confirming this unique value proposition, you should also detail the traits that make you especially qualified to deliver it. Your app is much more likely to join an existing market than create a new one. As a result, you need to reiterate what assets you have that would make your competitors jealous.

Is the content inside your app exceptionally exclusive? Is the UX radically rewarding? Is the list of supported integrations unimaginably immense? Whatever the case may be, keep this list of leverage points close by.

Plot Your Revenue

Profit is a simple equation of revenue minus expenses, but you’d better have a detailed plan for each.

Let’s start with the fun stuff first: How will your app make money? Paid download/subscriptions, freemium, or ad-driven monetization models can all be valid ways to build your revenue stream, but each will require different contributions from your user acquisition strategy.

Ulysses Mobile, for example, is listed on the App Store for an almost unheard of $24.99. With so many inexpensive alternatives available, the success of this text editing app hinges entirely on its ability to convince users to pay before they play. As a result, its publisher decided that producing a high-definition teaser video and gathering influencer endorsements was worth the upfront investment. (That wager has since paid serious dividends, including a Top-10 ranking on the list of highest-grossing iOS apps.)

Freemium apps, on the other hand, have the benefit of letting their actual user experience do more of the selling. But their user acquisition strategies still need to highlight the reasons why free users should consider converting into premium customers.

Angry Birds, for example, lets users enjoy the game’s first few levels before requiring a paid upgrade to unlock the full experience. Similarly, the social media management app HootSuite lets individual users enjoy limited functionality for free and expects corporate teams to pay a premium for unrestricted access to a more complete suite of tools. As a result, freemium apps can tolerate more gradual success and may not need such heavy upfront investments into acquisition.

Lastly, free apps make their complete user experience available at the start. This strategy definitely reduces the barriers to download, but it significantly increases the importance of retention in driving revenue. Free apps that struggle to sustain user engagement — whether in individual sessions or over time — will have fewer opportunities to serve advertisements and fewer options for monetizing their audience in more creative ways.

Many free apps leverage development tricks as a user acquisition tactic, like prompting their most engaged users to refer friends or write a review. Others rely heavily on advanced marketing tactics like influencer outreach and media buys to get their app in front of the right users in the first place. In any case, you can be certain that free apps still require significant sweat and/or financial equity to get an effective user acquisition strategy off the ground.

Understand costs. Piggy bank.

Understand Your Costs

The other half of your profit equation is the app’s overall cost structure. It’s safe to say that your time and money are finite resources, so you’ll want to know exactly how much of each can be reserved for a user acquisition budget.

Whether you’re a bootstrapped startup or established business, some of the more common cost factors you need to account for include:

  • User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) Design
  • Backend Development
  • Mobile  
  • External Integrations (APIs, eCommerce , etc)
  • Data Storage (Tip: Cloud hosts like AWS will often incentive you with free credits to start)
  • Routine Maintenance
  • App Store Fees (Registration, Revenue Sharing, etc.)

Some of those investments can be paid in time or money, but they all need to be quantified in some form. Only after performing these calculations will we know what kind of budget and bandwidth you have left to fund user acquisition.

Your App Business Bible


Target Problem

(ex. Going to the gym is miserable)

Your Solution

(ex. Fast & functional home workouts)

Ideal Users

(ex. Health-conscious business pros)

Revenue Model

(ex. Freemium; premium upgrade unlocks progress tracking tools)

Cost Structure

(ex. Partnership with medical/fitness expert, basic dev, video hosting, etc.)

 One-Sentence Summary

(ex. Fast, fun, effective fitness system that you’ll actually stick to.)