Mobile Marketing Trends for late 2020, early 2021

Lina Danilchik

The pandemic of COVID-19 has had a tremendous effect not only on millions of people across the globe, but also on the world economy, online and offline businesses. Mobile app industry has also been affected: the balance of power in this highly-competitive market has shifted, and the industry continues its transformation.

While the coronavirus has led apps from some categories to stagnation, other apps, on the contrary, are experiencing a phenomenal growth. At the same time, innovations and new trends are emerging allowing the latter ones to push the envelope and the former ones – beat the odds in the fight.

We have carried out research, talked to mobile industry experts and brought together the most noticeable mobile app trends that publishers should bear in mind in order to adjust to a new reality.

General Mobile Trends

Growth of m-commerce

Smartphones have long been popular devices for online shopping. But during the coronavirus pandemic, when shopping centres were inaccessible, people gradually began to use their mobile phones as the main way to make purchases.

It should be noted that grocery shopping apps have seen a dramatic growth – up to incredible 200%. This trend seems to stay for longer.

Regina Panergo, Marketing Manager at BUNCH, says,

Online shopping will certainly outlast the pandemic. A study conducted by Salesforce stated that over a third of shoppers prefer to make their purchases online until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.”

Increasing role of voice control and voice search

According to Apple, people unlock their smartphones approximately 80 times per day. It’s clear that users touch them much more frequently during the day, and there are millions of bacteria on mobile phones. In the situation of coronavirus, users are seeking to avoid touching their smartphones so often.

That’s why voice control on devices becomes more and more popular. It is also for this reason that voice search optimization integrates into user acquisition and app store optimization strategies.

Mobile ad engagement still rises amid the pandemic

Although the mobile app market in general shows an unprecedented growth during the COVID-19 pandemic and publishers thanks to the influx of organic search traffic can now spend less on advertising (below we will figure out these lucky app categories), mobile ad engagement still rises.

According to the findings from the MobileFuse study they shared with Mobile Marketer, the level of engagement for mobile ads has risen 15% over the past few months. 

That’s why both in-app ads and app store ads, like Apple Search Ads on the App Store, retain their effectiveness.

Ads automation

While mobile publishers concentrate all their efforts on adjusting their apps to the changing user needs, they need help with mobile ads, which still have to be effective and enable publishers to meet target KPIs, like ROAS or CPA. And the help comes from automation.

In our App Growth Talk with Nadir Garouche, Growth Marketing Manager at Oh Bibi, he says,

I am mostly excited about going a bit more in automation. For instance, finding ways to test new audiences, placements and geographic locations at scale and automating the launch of new campaigns based on the best settings. Also for creatives: I look forward to working on tools to automate ad variation at scale.”

Speaking of Apple Search Ads, there are platforms for Apple Search Ads automated management and optimization that help to not only save time, which is precious, but also scale with this paid user acquisition channel. SearchAdsHQ by SplitMetrics, an official Apple Search Ads Partner, does an excellent job addressing all these challenges.

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Trending App Categories

Mobile Games

The mobile game industry has been at an all-time high: according to the study by App Annie, the use of mobile games in the second quarter of 2020 increased by 40%, year-on-year. It is also noticeable that an uptrend in mobile game downloads is continuing in the second quarter of 2020. Games are an affordable and easy way to satisfy the need for entertainment, it is therefore not surprising that during the tough lockdown period many people have preferred them to release stress and amuse themselves.

In 2021, the global mobile gaming market is expected to account for 59% of the global gaming industry revenue.

We at SearchAdsHQ have recently released a report on how the mobile app market and advertisers on Apple Search Ads, our clients in particular, react to the COVID-19 pandemic in Q1/Q2 2020 based on the sample of our customer data. This research shows that mobile game downloads are steadily growing worldwide even after relaxation of coronavirus lockdown measures.

Download the Report on the Impact of COVID-19 on Apple Search Ads, Q1-Q2 2020

While COVID-19 has been devastating to retail, hospitality, tourism and a host of other industries, captive consumers are spending more time online than ever before. Fueled by lockdowns and social distancing, Q2 broke records for app downloads and spending. The mobile gaming industry received a huge boost, with a 20% year over year increase in Q2 2020

Nate Tsang, Founder and CEO at WallStreetZen

Hypercasual games, multiplayer mobile games, casual casino games, farming and city builders, arcade racing and sports mobile games will keep the attention of users in 2021.

Apps for Remote Working (Work-from-Home)

Another mark left by the coronavirus is the declining influence of offices. Companies are re-thinking the importance of working face-to-face, closing part of their offices and allowing their employees to work remotely as long as they wish to. While working-from-home is turning into the new normal, people are looking for apps for remote work and online communication with colleagues.

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a real revolution in the Work-from-Home category,” says Andrea Raggi, Store Ads Team Lead at Phiture.

Downloads have more than doubled since COVID-19 started to strike heavily in many countries at the beginning of March 2020 and new cases started to be recorded at an exponential rate almost everywhere. This is a clear sign that the world (ready or not ready for this change) will have to cope with post-pandemic shifts on how work will be done in the future. In my opinion, working from home will become a new normal, and I believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the acceptance and adoption of this trend in many parts of the world.

Andrea Raggi, Store Ads Team Lead at Phiture

Another type of apps that falls under this category is education apps. Many universities and other educational institutions have temporarily closed their doors, so that both students and teachers have turned their attention to e-learning mobile apps. Mobile education apps facilitate flexibility & uninterrupted learning, and become a part of a toolkit for teaching and learning remotely.

Health and Fitness Apps

Today, more than ever, people are worried about their health and face the need for medical care apps, mental health apps helpful for stress release, mindfulness & meditation; fitness apps to ensure enough physical activity when staying at home. While the former ones deliver on-demand consultations from doctors, yoga lessons and relaxation techniques, the latter ones provide fitness programs with various exercises.

Many mobile publishers also adjust their fitness apps to the new needs of users and offer home workout programs, online fitness programs with personal trainers and more. Health & Fitness app category demonstrates the relationship between the number of new COVID-19 cases and the download trend.

Mobile Marketing Trends for late 2020, early 2021
Chart from the report on the impact of COVID-19 on Apple Search Ads in Q1/Q2 2020 by SearchAdsHQ

Entertainment, Social Media, Photo & Video Apps

Apart from mobile games, there are also entertainment apps that help people to feel part of society and alleviate boredom. YouTube, Netflix, Spotify and others have become even more popular on the app stores.

Social media apps have been experiencing a spike in popularity, since in the context of social distancing they allow users to communicate with friends, relatives and colleagues, post content and share what really matters via their smartphones. That’s why photo & video apps that help people to communicate and share visuals on social media are seeing an uplift as well. The graph below shows that the total number of downloads has increased by a factor of 2.5 since the pre-COVID-19 period.

Mobile Marketing Trends for late 2020, early 2021
Chart from the report on the impact of COVID-19 on Apple Search Ads in Q1/Q2 2020 by SearchAdsHQ

2020 is really something, so news apps that enable users to stay on top of everything that happens both locally and globally day and night, wherever they may be, are also in high demand.

Food Delivery and FaceTime-like Apps

Will Manuel, CEO of Core Media Concepts, says, “We are seeing an uptick in delivery model apps (food delivery, services delivery, etc) as people are looking for business continuity in the restaurant and services industry. This is not a surprise and although business has slowed down a bit overall, the demand for these types of apps have not. We also anticipate seeing more apps involving FaceTime-like features for different types of services like telemedicine, home repair estimations and other consulting services.”

Experts Take on Mobile Marketing Trends for Late 2020, Early 2021

Max Kamenkov, Co-founder and CEO at SplitMetrics and SearchAdsHQ

Max Kamenkov

I see five noticeable mobile app marketing trends to watch in 2021.

1. First of all, I would highlight the growing importance of app store promotion: publishers will resort to app store optimization for boosting organic installs, mobile A/B tests and Apple Search Ads.

As for Apple Search Ads, this channel will play a more significant role in performance marketing, since in fact only Apple of all providers will have legitimate access to devices (user data) and essentially might get a monopoly on tracking, more complex targeting and retargeting models.

Mobile Marketing Trends for late 2020, early 2021

2. New mechanics rewarding users to give permission to enable tracking will emerge in the near future.

3. Integration and consistency between mobile and web will become stronger, which will result in usage of additional channels, like email, the increasing role of email marketing and mobile web marketing in general.

Nate Tsang, Founder and CEO at WallStreetZen, agrees with Max on this point:

The golden age of native apps is over – just throwing up an “app” version of your site and doing minimal ASO isn’t enough to drive mobile as a channel. However, marketers shouldn’t forget that they can leverage progressive web apps to provide native-like experiences (for certain types of apps) and leverage traditional marketing channels like email to build usage habits on mobile, without having to push users directly towards the high friction act of downloading a native app.

4. It is also for this reason that mobile publishers will invest more in building and developing communities.

5. As the Report on the Impact of COVID-19 on Apple Search Ads shows, in the short term publishers will spend a bit less on ads due to an increase in organic search traffic. However, this trend will not continue for long.

Johannes von Cramon, App Marketer and Co-founder of Growfirst

Johannes von Cramon

The first thing that comes to mind is performance marketing as a key success factor for app marketing nowadays. ASO is still important for sure, especially because it creates many synergies with paid advertising but you can’t grow without organic or with organics alone. And due to Facebook and Google moving more and more away from major campaign management to the machine learning algorithms, conversion optimization is now the heart of almost everything that we do also inside the app stores.

And the second thing is that with ASO and performance marketing coming closer together, Incrementality has finally become a trend within the mobile industry. So you cannot just buy downloads anymore without questioning where the user came from and if he might have ended up in your app anyway, or what the organic uplift could be. This is really difficult to measure, and the duopoly is even working against it by obscuring placements and mixing organic & paid data. But every modern marketing manager should really think about incrementality.

Jeev Treeka, CEO of TopSEOs

Users are using mobile phones and hence mobile apps demands are increasing and hence mobile app marketing is more important nowadays. For App Marketing, reviews and ratings are still one of the important factors to be considered in 2020 and beyond. People no longer want to waste their time trying out apps that are below standard or do not fulfill their purpose.

Mobile app users want more transparency about security practices. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will get big in late 2020 and 2021. You can now even run AR ads on Instagram. The promotion of mobile apps on social media is still in trend and will be continued in the future too. Every new generation of mobile users will become more adept and efficient at learning new technology. They’ll also come with the expectation that an app works flawlessly. Standards are high, and if you lack in UX or UI, users will turn away from your app.

Thomas Petit, Independent App Growth Consultant

Thomas Petit

For Q4 2020, it’ll be hard to avoid the elephant in the room – and the noise surrounding it. The burning topic of the mobile industry is definitely the iOS14 impact.

Among the many questions marketers will try to solve: what will campaign measurement really look like, which new media & platform mix strategy to adopt in this context, how will CPMs evolve, how much SKAdNetwork serious limitations negatively impact returns as the duopoly ML-driven optimization is weakened, how to deal with the complexity of old & new data flowing in in parallel, et cetera.

There’s a ton to prepare for developers & advertisers, from BI adjustment to SDK updates to shifting retargeting towards CRM to analyzing even further day activity.

I believe those who will embrace the change the earliest will get a competitive advantage, over those losing their time trying to find workarounds and loopholes, or maybe worse, just waiting to see what’s up.

This mobile earthquake should be game-changing enough to worry less about the “usual” trends of this period of the year, even though another topic may add itself on the top of this busy list, with COVID 2nd waves already restarting, at least for countries outside America where the curve flattened previously.

Given the even-higher-than-usual incertitude on platform (iOS) & society (COVID), I find it risky to predict further ahead. I want to believe that humanity will be strong enough to keep COVID v2 at manageable levels, while on the advertising side, I’m expecting the dust to start settling in Q1 and marketers getting used to the new reality of aggregated tracking, quickly forgetting what it used to look like. More than ever, the only constant is change.

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Lina Danilchik
Lina Danilchik
Content Marketing Lead & App Growth Evangelist at SplitMetrics
Lina is Content Marketing Lead at SplitMetrics. She provides mobile marketers with best practices and tips on app growth, ASO, user acquisition and Apple Search Ads. Lina is also the host of App Growth Talks.
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