App Advertisers Need Branding. Here’s Why.

Key Takeaways:

  • App advertisers focus too much on user acquisition campaigns which only represent the last stages of the customer journey.
  • They therefore limit their growth potential by missing out on opportunities to reach users beginning their customer journey.
  • The best way of reaching these users is through branding.
  • The best channel to plan and manage campaigns across the entire customer journey is programmatic buying.  
  • Branding and performance campaigns are both synergistic and complementary to one another.
  • App advertisers need branding to ensure reliable customer journeys


person holding iPhone taking picture on Nike label

App advertisers usually guide their marketing investment using performance metrics, the most popular of which is the number of installs. By doing so, they limit the data that they base their decisions on. By taking a step backwards, app advertisers can gain a clearer picture of the entire customer journey then make more informed and effective choices.

Attaining strong results from performance marketing is great, but to achieve better growth and reach, app advertisers also need to address the upper funnel stages. One of the channels that allows advertisers to plan their digital marketing investment across the entire funnel is programmatic buying.

To keep things simple, in this article we will focus on app advertisers that only invest their marketing budgets in digital channels, especially in display.

Defining “Branding” and “Performance” 

Business, Establishing A Business, Startup, Target

Branding, in this context, refers to all marketing activities that focus on a broad target group. In programmatic/display advertising, branding campaigns are measured by the number of unique users reached, engagement, Cost per Customer Acquisition (CAC), and/or Lifetime Value (LTV). Which of these KPIs are selected is usually dependent on how experienced the advertisers are with these campaign types. 

The KPIs selected are dependent on the value that brands ultimately want to get from these campaigns. For example, if you’re looking to increase awareness for your brand, then brand campaigns can be evaluated based on reach. If acquiring valuable customers is the focus, then brand campaigns will be evaluated based on LTV. 

Performance campaigns, armed with a strong CTA, focus on a narrow audience with the aim of achieving faster conversions and driving short-term results in user acquisition or in-app conversions. These campaigns are evaluated by looking at CPI, CPA, CAC and LTV

For performance campaigns, CAC, and LTV, values will be lower than for branding campaigns.

The Funnel

Taking the example of a fashion ecommerce brand, here are some ways users can be influenced at each stage in the customer journey:

Applift's customer journey funnel: reach, inspire, convert, engage.

The target group becomes increasingly granular in the lower part of the funnel. Granular audiences are part of the bigger target group that an advertiser addresses in the Reach and Inspire stages.

These funnel stages are dynamic and users will move between them on their own. However, when focusing on performance at the expense of branding, the advertiser will not know if the users are “moving” towards their app.

Consider branding activities as a hook. They can attract potential customers to your brand, giving you control over the data for improved targeting. Without branding, there is a lack of control over data in the upper parts of the funnel. While your future customers might be aware of your brand, they may not consider it, resulting in a loss of a potential lead.  

Branding campaigns can also be used to identify and target similar user groups for cross-promotion on an advertiser’s related apps (e.g. casual games).

Branding + Performance

Branding campaigns target users who are at the beginning of their customer journey. User acquisition (UA) and retargeting campaigns aim towards users who are already in the lower part of the sales funnel, i.e the ‘Convert’ and ‘Engage’ stages. Thus, performance activities like UA and retargeting are not very likely to have a high reach for the relevant audience. 

If an app advertiser wants real growth, they need to target the users who are in upper stages of the funnel as well.  UA campaigns have really good results, but their performance can, in time, become stagnant without being complemented by upper funnel activities.

In this regard, branding helps advertisers to influence users to consider their app. Advertisers need to constantly reach new users, inspire them, and move them to the lower stages of the funnel with their brand and app in mind.

How Branding Moves Customers Along Their Mobile Journey

person in gray shirt holding white printer paper

There are several ways in which advertisers can address the entire customer journey; running programmatic campaigns is arguably the easiest. Beyond its ease, embarking on a programmatic ad buying campaign can help advertisers to: 

  • Increase their reach by targeting broader audiences that may have little awareness of their brand/app;
  • Refine their targeting strategies by using improved audience segmentation possibilities offered by DSPs;
  • Reach their audience with relevant creative messaging tailored to the stage of the customer journey users are at;
  • Invest the brand with positive associations (such as “quality” or “trustworthiness”) by focusing on premium inventory and using branding-focused creatives that do not require immediate action (which, in this humble programmatic campaign manager’s opinion, are more beautiful than the the creatives used for UA or retargeting); and 
  • Consolidate display media buying in one place, the DSP.


A customer’s decision to install your app entails more than the short timespan of the lookback window. It is a decision based on multiple touchpoints with your brand over a longer period of time.

Integrating branding in marketing activities does not mean advertisers must stop investing in performance campaigns. On the contrary, branding (which focuses on long-term benefits for your app) complements performance (which focuses on short-term results).

Branding activities fuel the middle part of the customer funnel with a continuous stream of potential customers who can be reached with action-driven messaging. Branding helps advertisers influence users to consider their app. They need to ‘Reach’ new users, ‘Inspire’ them, and move them to the lower stages of the journey, to ‘Convert’ and ‘Engage’ with their app in mind.

Moreover, the better your performance, the more creative you can get with your branding activities. These two strategies have a symbiotic relationship. Both are needed for the full-funnel strategy that will achieve meaningful brand growth.

Margareta Marza is a Senior Programmatic Campaign Manager at Applift. She has previous experience in branding, media planning and paid social advertising, working both on the agency and client sides. Besides her passion for programmatic buying, her guilty pleasures are French fries and caramelized popcorn.