Will 2015 be the year ‘In-App Tracking’ goes mainstream?

By Elizabeth D'Arcy-Potts, European Director

December 17, 2014 | 5 min read

Picture the scene. A gun fires to signal the start of a 110 meter hurdle race. Having prepared long and hard for the challenge ahead, one athlete races into an early lead, bounds over the first hurdle, then stops dead in his tracks and raises his hands above his head to celebrate his ‘victory’.

Elizabeth D'Arcy-Potts of marketing technology company CAKE.

Elizabeth D'Arcy-Potts of marketing technology company CAKE.

As ridiculous as it sounds, this is an almost perfect analogy for the approach many UK marketers are taking to the tracking of mobile apps. By neglecting to track user activity beyond the initial download, marketers are losing out on valuable insights into user behaviour that can be used to optimise their future marketing spend.

While in-app tracking has been gaining popularity in the US in recent years, to date UK marketers have been slower to tune into the potential benefits it offers. This is perhaps due to the fact that many UK businesses created apps initially as a kneejerk reaction to the incredible boom in the power and popularity of mobile devices over the past decade. Too many UK businesses approached digital agencies with a brief that amounted to little more than “we need to get an app out there”, without ever really stopping to consider why they were doing it or what role the app would play in the business’s wider marketing strategy.

As a result of this approach, user downloads of the app became the key metric used to measure the ‘success’ of the whole project. Lots of downloads means lots of happy users, right?

Wrong. Recent research found that more than 25% of all apps are only ever opened once after download. By failing to distinguish between these one-time users and those who go on to make regular use of the app, marketers are missing out on golden opportunities to gain commercially valuable information to optimise their campaigns and spending.

Why track in-app?

There are several reasons why UK businesses have failed to utilise in-app tracking to date. In the first place, the right technology wasn’t available to let people track in-app activity easily and effectively. Until recently, in-app tracking tech would mean setting up yet another separate tracking platform, the data from which would then need to be exported and somehow combined with the information coming out of your other online tracking platforms. The fiddly, time-consuming nature of such activity was enough to put off many businesses from even trying.

Fortunately, the latest generation of in-app tracking tech offers a centralised information hub, where different sorts of data (e.g. affiliate web tracking, mobile tracking, in-app affiliate tracking, etc) can be collated and analysed side-by-side in absolute real-time, as it happens.

Another reason why people have traditionally failed to track in-app activity is uncertainty over exactly what sort of metrics should be tracked! However, in reality, there is no great mystery to it. Metrics commonly tracked beyond the download referral can include the user’s carrier network, device, operating system (major and minor), location, age and gender plus any other in-app metrics (such as the time of day that the app is used, sales or cart abandonment) that the app producer feels relevant to optimising future marketing spend, enhancing user experience and boosting in-app revenues.

Who needs it?

Marketers can use the customer data gathered in-app to pivot their campaigns in real-time around any of the criteria mentioned above. For both online and offline retailers, the implications are obvious.

For example, for retailers with bricks-and-mortar premises on the high street, the in-app popularity of a particular product in a particular location would provide a good indicator of how best to allocate available stock to stores in a way that maximises sales and revenue. Likewise, being able to calculate an accurate lifetime value of individual app user or multiple users attributed to a particular affiliate is potentially invaluable in terms of optimising online marketing spend.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the casual gaming sector (where gaming apps are commonly downloaded for free, with frequent, low-value in-game purchases generating revenue for the game producers) has been one of the first sectors to embrace in-app tracking.

Now that in-app tracking technology has come of age, businesses of all kinds have the opportunity to leverage its power. Obvious candidates would include those with food home delivery apps such as supermarkets and takeaway outlets. It’s also easy to see how businesses with entertainment apps could utilise in-app tracking to reveal user preferences and maximise sales.

However, in practice, there is no reason why any type of app-producing organisation, be it a business, public sector or third sector organisation, shouldn’t be investigating the potential benefits in-app tracking can deliver.

It’s time to go beyond the first hurdle and see the race through to the end. That, after all, is the only way to get your hands on the gold.

Elizabeth D’Arcy-Potts is a European Director at marketing technology company CAKE.


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