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To Burst, or Not to Burst - and How? An In-Depth Guide to the Art of Burst Campaigns

With 8.5M daily downloads attributed to the top 200 free US App Store apps, and Google Play seeing twice that many, it’s no wonder that every game developer dreams to make it to the top of that list. Find out how to up your store ranking AND optimize ROI

Guy Banda, Blogger

March 31, 2016

6 Min Read

An oversaturated market

With 8.5 million daily downloads attributed to the top 200 free US App Store apps, and Google Play seeing twice that many downloads, it’s no wonder that every game developer’s dream is to make it to the top of that list. Unfortunately, the competition is pretty fierce. In 2015 Android recorded nearly 600,000 in-store gaming apps and IOs recorded approximately 450,000 gaming apps.

What’s an app got to do to get noticed around here?

Well, there are two ways to go about it:

1. The slow and tedious climb up the mountain.

Assuming you created one kickass gaming app, you can slowly begin spending small amounts of money on advertising. Hopefully the word will spread, users will catch on to the fact that you have an incredible product to offer, and when your daily installs start hitting the 500,000 mark, you will have proudly made it to the top of Android’s and Apple’s most coveted golden lists.

2. Burst campaigns.

Forget the slow and steady climb. Burst campaigns are like taking a turbo powered cable car straight up to the top. Yesterday you were number 5,000, at the bottom of the who’s who list, and today you’re an instant somebody. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Well it can be…if you do it right. Or you can find yourself right back where you started at the bottom of that mountain, 24 hours later, only this time with substantially lighter pockets.

So what exactly is a burst campaign?

A burst campaign is a mobile marketing technique used to dramatically increase an app’s installations in a very short period of time, thus gaining instant placement at the top of Apple and Android’s app stores. The mechanism of a burst campaign requires dedicating a budget to achieve a mass amount of installs within a time-span of 48-72 hours in order to achieve awareness, visibility, store ranking and eventually increased volumes of organic installs.

 There are two major types of burst campaigns:  incentivized CPI (or ‘Cost per Install’) campaigns and non-incentivized CPI campaigns.

Incentivized CPI campaigns provide you with an instant cost effective burst of app downloads by offering gamers to install your app in exchange for free in-game rewards within the game they are currently playing (examples include: extra lives, coins, and boosters, to name a few). This process is extremely effective because the gamer gets an immediate reward, you get your app installed on his device, and a few days and tens of thousands of downloads later, BAM, you’re at the top of the charts!

Non-incentivized CPI campaigns are a bit more organic in nature. They don’t involve rewarding users to try your game by offering free goods, but are rather simple marketing ads targeted to other app users in the form of "Install my game because I have a great product I think you’ll enjoy." Repeat these prompts tens of thousands of times over a couple of days and HELLO top of the charts.

Same outcome, different process.

But then what?!

The idea behind  burst campaigns is that once you generate all those installs and make it to the top, you’ll begin to enjoy amazing exposure on a regular basis, and the following two things will occur:

1. Your newly acquired, quality users will start making in-app purchases and you’ll start earning big money.

2. You’ll maintain your first-place app store seat, receive mass amounts of quality traffic on a regular basis, and become the nation’s next Candy Crush.

If only it were that simple.

A number of problems you are likely to encounter along the way, if the process is not set up correctly:

1. The traffic purchased through incentivized burst campaigns is not always qualitative. Some of the users who installed your game will not go on to use it, while others may have only installed due to the reward provided in exchange for installation.

2. Of the millions of high quality users you just acquired, statistically speaking only 5-7% of them (if you’re lucky) will go on to make in-app purchases. To recover your campaign funds and profit however, you’ll need to figure out a way to significantly increase your in-app user monetization.

3. 24 hours at the top of the app store charts is not enough to ensure game stickiness and maintain your position. You will need to find a way to externally maintain a large number of daily installs to hold your spot as your game catches on, or your app store placement will be lost and your 24 hours of gaming glory will have come to an end.

How to effectively use burst campaigns to "make it big”

The problems we mentioned above are real, and are common pitfalls that many developers have fallen into. It doesn’t mean however, that they can’t be avoided or overcome. Burst campaigns do work when implemented correctly. Here’s how.

  1. Make sure you have a quality product. Advertising will only take you so far, and burst campaigns are simply one of many ways to gain exposure and increase visibility. Once that occurs, it’s all up to your app, and whether it has crowd appeal or not. The short of the matter is, a quality game will stick. A crappy game will not.

  2. Define your primary and secondary KPIs before you start. Are you looking to gain visibility for your product? Make it big to the top of the charts? Retain users with a long lifetime value? Only once you define your KPIs can you choose the best strategic way for you to burst, within your designated budget.

  3. Create highly targeted burst campaigns. Make sure that the campaign you’re paying for is really targeting the right users and provides for a positive ad experience, adapting to and respecting each user’s engagement preferences.

  4. Know when to select incent vs. non-incent campaigns. It’s important to know which one of these to implement, and the answer is an individual one. Incent is a cheaper, faster way to gain results, but the user value tends to be lower due to the reward that motivated your app’s installation. Non-incent campaigns lend themselves to higher quality traffic, with a longer user LTV (lifetime value), however, without a motivational reward, the campaigns generally take longer to run and are far more costly.

  5. Mix it up a bit.  Our favorite formula for burst campaigns involves an initial burst of incentivized and non incentivized CPI (cost per install) traffic, followed by ongoing maintenance of CPE (cost per engagement) based traffic. The initial CPI combo will ensure high volumes and short lead-times to obtain higher quality users at a lower cost, and the CPE traffic will really help ramp up your user stickiness factor. Combining all 3 engagement methods will not only ensure optimal results, but also increase your user retention.

Bottom line

When done correctly, burst campaigns are a highly effective tactical method for gaining user visibility, acquiring a large, qualitative user base in a relatively short amount of time and profiting BIG. When done incorrectly, they are a really expensive way to gain 24 hours of short-lived fame. So before you ‘burst’, make sure to clearly define your short and long term goals, keeping in mind how you would like the bigger picture to look. Then plan your campaign’s strategy to maximize cost effective means to reach the highest value users for your app.

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