Anatomy of App Discovery Part 1: The Evolution of “Lean-Back” Discovery

Apr 15, 2021
By: Jon Hudson

Mobile advertising tends to happen during moments when consumers are engaged in other activities – at a pause in a game, reading content, browsing a feed. But consumers also are discovering new apps outside those moments – during phone set-up, changing screens, or organizing apps. Our 4 part series talks about these intermediary – or idle – moments of app discovery. Here is Part 1:

What prompts an app install? This is the golden question for app marketers. Most of our advertising intends to grab consumer attention away from activities where they are currently engaged. The goal is for our ads to get the user to lean in during a “lean-back moment” in their  current activity – at the end of a story’s paragraph, in-between game levels, or somewhere within their social feed.

What this doesn’t take into account is how phone usage has changed. A whopping 49% of the time we pick up our phones with no first app in mind. Much of today’s use comes outside our favorite apps and has become a lean-back activity in itself, like when we flip through screens to find what’s next.     

These behavioral changes have made the opportunity for discovery much richer. Now there are solutions that can target consumers in both lean-in and lean-back activities that occur on-device, but outside an app.

For example:

  • During Device Set-up – Setup wizards that display recommended apps target discovery when consumers are “Leaning In” to configure their new device.  New devices create new installs (3x more than usual in the first quarter of ownership) making a new phone purchase an ideal moment to capture consumer attention. 
  • Scrolling Between Apps – Device preloads target discovery when consumers are “Leaning back” and looking for their next thing to do.  A considerable amount of time is spent thumbing through your phone looking for what’s next. Getting your app on-device via a preload can generate brand impressions and build curiosity until the consumer has the ideal moment to engage. 
  • Organizing Their Device – Smart folders target discovery when consumers are “Leaning In” to picking their next game to play.  As app clutter grows on phones, people seek ways to group apps into different categories so they are easy to find. Many Android phones now offer a Smart Games Folder where the device will help organize their games in one convenient place – and then recommend new games within the folder to the user.

With app installs becoming less frequent the longer we own a smartphone – people with 10 years of smartphone ownership install 40% fewer apps than someone with under 2 years – it’s critical for app marketers to recognize these outside the app activities to capture attention. These solutions put apps on-device waiting for users to have a specific desire  – like an itch for something new or an immediate need. 

When will they have that desire? That depends on certain dimensions:

  1. Brand – Have they heard of your brand? A user will likely be quicker to jump into your app if they’ve heard a lot of buzz about it or have friends who use it.
  2. Icon Appeal – Is your app icon eye catching? Does your icon look like something the user would like? If a user sees your app and it’s in their wheelhouse, they’ll be more likely to jump in sooner rather than later.
  3. Leisure Time Use – How do people use your app? If your app is used more for “lean-back” moments (gaming or social), people might engage quicker than if it serves a specific need or purpose (travel or finance).

Different apps can rank differently on these dimensions, which means time to discovery can vary from app to app. In part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at how and why different categories will have different discovery velocities and find out which categories will be discovered the fastest.

By Jon Hudson
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