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Top The Charts With Your Mobile Game App This Holiday Season

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Editor’s note: Xavier Bourlard is head of mobile EUR/US for Headway Digital.

The holiday season is fast approaching, and for mobile gaming studios it’s make or break time. How can you earn one of the coveted spots in Apple Store’s Top 10 list without exhausting your marketing budget? Below are five steps to help you develop an effective strategy for getting your mobile game apps noticed by consumers this holiday season.

Before we get started, just a brief warning. As the holiday season advances, expect to see lots of mobile ad companies promising you a spot in the Top 10 list in any and every country you desire. Beware of such claims – they may be scams. Many, of course, are quite legit, but you should always question their sources and methodologies before turning your burst campaigns over to them.

Step 1: Soft Launch — Test and learn

By now you should have your contours of strategy in place (i.e. OS release, app title, countries to launch in – all benchmarked by market). Plan a soft launch for early November. That means you need to choose the right icon, keywords, pictures, text and video trailer to display in the online stores. Here’s where your A/B testing skills come into play. Additionally, consider engaging a few cost-per-install ad networks that specialize in mobile installs. These early learnings will help you define your quality metrics.

Step 2: Define your KPIs and quality metrics

How will you measure success? Lifetime value? Percent of spenders? Retention rate? A good strategy is to select a mix of short- and long-term indicators. For instance, start with a short-term indicator such as a three- or seven-day retention rate. For the long term, consider the total amount of in-app purchases after one month. These metrics can help you assess profitability, as well as identify the best pay per install (PPI) partners for acquiring new gaming users and high quality downloads.

At this step, you’ll need to have a good handle on the performance and profitability of your mobile-ad campaigns so you can determine the maximum cost-per-install (CPI) you’re willing to offer mobile-app traffic partners.

Step 3: Launch mid/end November

The goal of this step is two-fold. The first is to select the partners for your burst campaign, the second is to choose who you’ll engage long term.

Select at least five partners to drive traffic to your mobile game, generate reviews and ratings in the stores, and monitor the performance (as measured by quality of gamers) of each. Compare results with the KPIs you’ve established.

The perfect posse will include a social network, a gaming monetization platform, a programmatic platform with advanced targeting criteria, and one or two mobile gaming ad networks.

Now it’s time to schedule your burst.

Step 4: The burst

To create a burst in the store, you’ll need a massive number of installs to occur for several days in a row. The post-burst lift in rankings will lead to plenty of organic users due to your position within the store.

Keep in mind that some 20+ million devices will be activated on Christmas Day, so the competition will be fierce (and probably cost-prohibitive). In 2012, some Japanese gaming studios paid up to $10 CPI to enter the U.S. market during the Christmas week. Insane? Yes, this is why the best strategy is to book and execute your burst in advance, perhaps one or two weeks before Christmas, in order to secure a lower CPI.

Step 5: Get ready for the holidays

So what’s the point of doing a burst a week before Christmas if you’re not in the Top 10 on the day when 20 million consumers will open their tablets and mobiles?

The strategy I propose is simple: Drive up your ranking when it’s more cost-effective to do so by working with the partners you’ve tested in November and found to deliver strong results. Next, consider less costly re-engagement campaigns during the holiday week to drive revenue and retention. Remember, consumers will have more time on their hands to play with their new devices, so you’ll want to remind them of the fun they had with your game.

With endurance and strategy, your mobile game just may be one of the winners of the burst holiday race. Follow these steps to control your ad costs, maximize your profit, and amass a healthy volume of qualified gaming users.