How COVID-19 Impacts Consumer Mobile App Use, Time Spent And Pastime Preferences – mobilegroove


PAS Hello and welcome to Mobile Presence. This is episode 378 and I’m your host, as always, Peggy Anne Salz, with Mobile Groove, where I plan, produce and promote content that allows my clients to reach performance goals and scale growth. And this is usually the time when I talk about how this is your destination for growth, it still is but of course I don’t need to tell you, these are unprecedented times, times that will see us rewrite the growth marketing playbook. You know, I’m talking to people out there, I talked to a company recently redefining customer lifetime value because, guess what, the lifetime value isn’t the long cycle we thought it was, we’re thinking in mid-term, we’re thinking in short-term – it was Sir Martin Sorrell, former Founder of WPP who warns us that this could be the end of long-term thinking and planning as we know it.

So, what we do know is that we need clear data, we need insights to guide us, you know, we need to understand what are the app categories on the rise, what is user time in-app and on mobile – good news is, it is rising through the roof but here today to tell you more about what you need to guide your business in these difficult times, my guests, Amir Ghadrati and Lexi Sydow. Amir Ghadrati, Director Market Insights at AppAnnie, Lexi Sydow is Senior Market Insights Manager at AppAnnie and hey guys, it’s great to have you here on the show today.

AG Thank you, thank you so much for having us.

LS Yes, we’re happy to be here.

PAS Absolutely, I mean full disclosure, I’ve been writing about the app economy since it was there and when I do it, I have to look to data and insights, you’re one of the stops, as I said, but for some of our listeners, some of them might not know you and they should because it’s a great source of what’s going on in the industry. But tell us a little bit about AppAnnie, maybe Amir you could tell me.

AG Yes, yes, of course. So, AppAnnie is the industry’s most trusted mobile data analytics platform so if you think about AppAnnie’s core goals, our mission is really to help customers create those winning mobile experiences and achieve excellence. So, if you take a look at the information we have on our platform, there’s a lot of relevant things for app store optimization, user acquisition, product management, partnerships, optimizing for ad creatives, expanding into markets, a lot of really different types of really interesting information that’s just relevant for various aspects of mobile.

And if you’re talking about the specific metrics, we’re looking at things involving downloads and usage and rankings for app queuers and all those fun things.

PAS Absolutely, and all of that is going to be even more important than it was, it’s clearly you don’t drive your app business blind so you do need these analytics, you do need this data, these insights. But as I said at the start, you know, perhaps now more than ever, I mean, Lexi, I read your blogs a lot, I get a lot of information from them and you’ve done a couple of blogs recently about like what changed, what’s different. Just overall in mobile, what are you seeing? I mean, time in mobile is certainly on the rise.

LS Absolutely, so we’ve sort of seen things happen in sort of waves, right, based on where the virus kind of started and impacting countries at scale. So we saw a lot of movement first in China which is to be expected followed by some in Japan and South Korea and other APAC markets and then sort of the next wave would have been Italy in a big way and after that we’re seeing US, the UK, multiple markets across Europe really seeing an impact on mobile corresponding with that spread of COVID-19.

So, one of the biggest takeaways for us was that we saw the average daily time spent in mobile increase significantly. So, in China where we saw the outbreak really started, really got significantly worse in January and lockdown measures starting to happen as early as January 23rd, we saw that in February as a result of those lockdown measures and people remaining indoors, we saw the time spent per day on mobile in China grew at 30% from the average daily time spent in 2019. So we saw people spending 5 hours and more on mobile devices in China.

And, again, that’s up from 3.9 hours in 2019 and that’s a trend that we started to see in South Korea, in Japan, in Italy, there’s been uptakes there in February and as we close in March, we fully expect there to be sharper uptakes in time spent in those markets as well as the daily time spent increasing in markets like the US and the UK.

PAS I mean, it makes perfect sense because of course we are in these digital safe spaces, right, we’re spending more time on mobile in-app, we’ll go vertical by vertical with you through these because you’ve also had some results about, you know, I wouldn’t say winners and losers, but the app categories that are crushing it and others that are maybe tapering or just showing steady growth. What about the way we use apps, is there something about sessions, is there something about not the fact that we just spend more time in there but it’s actually commanding more of our attention?

AG Yes, I mean, for mobile, something that we’ve seen historically throughout the time that we’ve been using smartphones is just, you know, the more that you’re able to have access to your device, the more you are likely to use it and in the past that might have been things like battery life, right, just being able to get through a day and actually spending multiple hours with the screen time up. Then there’s also just infrastructure, the ability to get that signal on the go or having a strong wifi connection so you’re able to actually connect with that device.

And in some cases it’s also even just ease of billing, right, so getting that carrier billing kind of built into the smartphone devices – that’s something that when we saw that people would spend significantly more than they did before when they would have to enter credit card information manually for various purchases.

So now, there’s a lot of other things that people normally would be doing when they’re out and about that they’re not necessarily as doing as much anymore, people are spending a lot more time obviously isolated inside so there’s more opportunity to use those mobile devices. And so just the fact that there aren’t these other actions or activities that you might normally be doing, you’re going to be turning much more to your mobile devices for that connection and for that entertainment.

So a lot of these actions were already in place, right, we’re already using our mobile devices a lot for shopping, we’re using a lot for social, we’re using a lot for gaming but it’s just an increased focus on that now more than there was before especially if you have multiple people in the same household, right, and maybe a limited number of devices – the one device that everyone’s usually going to have their own version of is going to be that smartphone rather than the largest TV or the gaming console.

PAS Well, I’m excited to go through the verticals because, you know, there’s a couple that are really just, you know, dead simple, it’s clear – if we have more time on our hands, we’re going to be spending it trying to spend that time in ways that is enjoyable or at least even a distraction. I read recently one of the most googled terms right now is ‘what do I do when I’m bored?’ or ‘what shall I do when I’m bored?’ One of those is gaming and you have some data about that, I’d love you to share because gaming apps – what is it, would you say higher than X or some sort of comparison? We don’t want to maybe say they’re going through the roof but they are very strong.

LS Absolutely, so I think one of the biggest things that we noticed was we’ve seen sort of records being broken for gaming downloads in the last couple of weeks and last week, which was March 22nd to 28th, we actually saw it was the biggest week ever for global downloads of games. So, we topped 1.2 billion games downloaded across iOS and GooglePlay and to put that in context, that is up 40% from the weekly average throughout 2019 and if we look at just 2020 so far, last week that is actually up 30% from the average, you know, in 2020 through the 21st March.

So, it’s a significant increase and we’re seeing that that correlates quite strongly alongside the government measures and logistical lockdown, social distancing and home recorded TV.

PAS And just to be clear, I mean, gaming – because it’s so vast, I counted them, I think there are at least sub-categories here – any particular category outstanding, you know, the hypercasual is the big deal because we just want to dip in and out or we really want to get into the mid-core, hard-core here?

LS Absolutely. There is – it kind of runs the spectrum, I would say. We’ve seen across the board it increase and there are strong growth in hypercasual games for downloads, as we’ve seen that is kind of true in most cases, they tend to dominate the charts generally especially for Western markets but we also have a lot of data indicating the types and it’s growing in a lot of these core apps. It may not have the largest download base but they’ve got very strong usage and stickiness from users.

PAS So we have a lot of data to go through, we’ll be talking about dating entertainment, education, business, loads of reasons to stay exactly where you are but right now, listeners, we do have to go to a break so don’t go away, we’ll be right back.

And we are back to Mobile Presence. I’m Peggy Anne Salz. We have today our guests, Amir Ghadrati, and Lexi Sydow, both from AppAnnie and both sharing freely some great data about, you know, what’s going on out there in the app economy, what are the app categories that are doing well, what are the ones that are struggling. So we did gaming, an interesting one that’s certainly impacted by, you know, everything out there not just with coronavirus but also just would probably show an impact even after is dating because relationships are different. What are you seeing in dating apps?

LS Absolutely, so we actually – dating is a very interesting category to look at so what we’ve seen with other categories is, you know, if you’ve got an app that kind of begets that in-person interaction like a ride sharing app where you go to it and the end users typically almost always to facilitate that ride, naturally we’ve seen some of that decline in recent weeks along with people under quarantine and lockdown measures.

With dating, what’s really interesting is that we’ve seen a little bit of a softening in demand post-Valentine’s Day, where that’s the kind of week we see peek weekly active users among those top dating apps and so we’ve seen that kind of seasonality play out but we’ve actually seen some uptakes and some strong performance maintaining a very high level of weekly active users throughout March for most dating apps.

So that’s been particularly interesting because it touches on the idea that dating apps are more than just facilitating that in-person interaction in the end, it’s about messaging, it’s about there’s a gamification factor to the swiping which kind of lends a little bit of resiliency there to the app because people are turning to those for a level of entertainment, occupying your time as well as messaging people.

And then we’ve also seen that a lot of these dating apps have incorporated video dating features as well. So we’re seeing that people are innovating in ways to continue to date via their apps.

PAS Absolutely, and you talk about video, great segue because, yes, I’ve talked to people at happn and also at the Meet Group about their video and they also see their dating apps as being very much also just about a social connection, you know, it’s not even really about the dating as much as it is the conversation, you know, the presence and that’s certainly what we need when we’re self-isolating and seeing our relationships differently through a different lens. But you said video, video streaming, entertainment as well – how are they both doing?

AG Yes, so I mean as you would expect, video streaming’s been in very high demand, right, initially we didn’t see that kind of time spend go up in the US but we have seen a lot of shifts in that more recently so as you would expect, people are at home, they need more things to entertain themselves. What’s been interesting for that is, you know, you’re seeing an increase in some of the standard video apps that people are using but you’re also seeing increases in things like Pluto TV and Roku, you know, apps that you don’t necessarily traditionally see in the top 10 streaming.

So Roku of course can be used as a remote for your home device as well but Pluto TV and also 2B, those are completely free services that have seen very strong growth during this time right now, right, so they don’t have that barrier to entry that some of these other subscription services might have and so people are willing to try out these new services that maybe otherwise they wouldn’t have seeked out as quickly.

But then you also have big companies like Disney+, right, they launched in the US in November and their launch in Europe was extremely successful. They had across 7 countries like 5 million downloads in a single day which was pretty incredible but again, people are just kind of starving for that new content, right, for those new shows and new movies and things to watch. And like you said, looking for that connection in terms of the entertainment but then also that likely leads into the social aspect of being able to discuss these things as well.

And what we’ve also seen is people getting creative in terms of releasing things earlier to these streaming services than they normally would have, whether it’s movies that were in theatres that are now on demand almost immediately or even simultaneously when their original launch dates were, or just taking something as simple as like, you know, hey, we’re going to release Frozen II on Disney+ three months earlier than expected.

PAS It’s also interesting, I’d like to understand if there’s a shift in the dynamic in any way out there because I was reading an article recently from Eric Seufert over at Mobile Dev Memo, he was doing the maths and saying hey, you know what, it may be that this is also a chance for the smaller companies, for the indie-developers to really rise above maybe because we just have more time to discover their app. Are you seeing any interesting shifts in those top apps because, you know, it would be kind of positive for our audience at least to say, hey, if people are taking more time to discover interesting apps, they might discover yours.

AG Yes, I mean, for the 2B and Pluto TV, those are the two stand-outs from the video streaming side and we would agree with exactly what you’re saying, people are more willing to kind of go outside their known apps or standard apps or gaming content and then even within that, right, movies that maybe people wouldn’t have considered seeing in theaters, they’re very willing to consider kind of renting them on demand right now, right, because they’re looking for that new content and that prolonged engagement over a long period of time.

And that’s also something we’re seeing in a lot of these other categories as well, whether it’s business and education apps or even health and fitness or finance, there have been some of these trends in general on mobile and just people engaging more with these mobile apps for these verticals and just due to the limitations of what’s going on, it’s almost sped up that process and sped up that adoption so people are doing things that they maybe wouldn’t have considered before but seeing that engaging with things through mobile is actually something that isn’t as scary as maybe they would have considered for some of these categories, right?

And so what we’re seeing is you’re going to have this big lift, this big surge in engagement and when things go back to normal, maybe some of this engagement will level off but it’ll likely do that at a rate that was higher than it was before. So it’s almost like pushed us a little bit forward in terms of not only innovation but also adoption of some of these practices.

PAS Any surprises, anything that really is outstanding? You talked about some shifts in there but are we seeing coming up through the ranks, you know, that next – maybe not TikTok, but you know how it is, you always see these, they start out small and come on large, big, you know, and you can see it coming. What do you see coming?

LS I’d say one of the biggest stand out kind of instances is – a little bit related to video streaming but more on the edge of video conferencing. We’ve seen Houseparty gain significant traction specifically in the US and here in Europe. So, Houseparty is owned by Epic Games and it’s more of a social video conferencing app, kind of targeted at GenZ but we see that alongside – it’s moving in similar ways to Hangouts Meet from Google which is another video conferencing tool, typically more business oriented, Microsoft Teams, Zoom Cloud Meetings – all of them have seen significant growth in downloads and what’s really interesting about Houseparty is they’ve seen this crazy kind of skyrocket growth in downloads in markets like Spain and Italy and specifically they were seeing in the week of March 15th to 21st, you know, 2360-fold the level of downloads they saw versus the weekly average for Q4 2019 in Spain and that in Italy, Houseparty saw about 423X the weekly level they saw for Q4 2019.

So that’s sort of building off of really small, obviously, download levels prior so it’s showing this really unique opportunity right now for an app like Houseparty to gain significant traction in a market where they really didn’t have much penetration at all. And also kind of touching on that, video conferencing right now, there’s also that social element, right, so the more of your friends and family that also use the app as part of that network effect, the stickier it gets for you and so this is a really strong opportunity for user acquisition for Houseparty and they have a real opportunity to establish some app habits in markets that were largely really did not have much market penetration for that prior.

PAS I love you talking about opportunity because that’s what we want to talk about next when we come back from the break, we’ll talk about some opportunities that are out there for marketers to still up their game, I mean, it’s going to be different, a different playbook, that’s why we have you here on the show today but there are some tips that you can offer us so don’t go away, we’ll be right back.

And we are back and we have Amir Ghadrati, Lexi Sydow, both from AppAnnie, both sharing as I said before important data – take notes or look at our show notes, of course, afterwards. So, right before the break, we were talking about some of the high fliers, you know, some of the app categories that are surprising and this is great but at the end of the day it’s all about what do I do to ride the wave of interest and activity out there? I’ll start with you, Amir, why don’t we talk about, you know, what are you seeing out there, maybe for example ad creatives, that’s always been the source, the core source of competition, competitive advantage – any shifts out there? Should I jump on video, should I get away from display – what are you seeing?

AG Yes, so I mean, one just in general for ad creatives, video’s been booming the last year and a half or so, so definitely more videos is also good. I realise it can be a little difficult to shoot new things right now, definitely limitations that might be going on but I do think that people are kind of open to ads that won’t necessarily feel as polished, that feel a little bit more real, right, in terms of what might be actually going on. So there might be an opportunity there to use that limitation to your advantage of still being able to put videos out there that you almost feel like they’re homemade to some extent. And we’ve seen things like that be successful with TikTok, could easily translate over to other brands as well.

But, in general, what you see from the advertising side, you know, also is somewhat true for the app store optimization side including your app description and even app name, it’s just thinking about what your business does right now, right, and are there things that are beneficial that it can do that will help people given the circumstances, right, or make them feel more comfortable using your service. So highlighting if there are things that are available at home, things that are on demand, are they indoor, are there multi-player elements, does it have some sort of chat functionality – how can you highlight these attributes to make sure that people are aware of it before they even download the app so that they realize that they can get these benefits without necessarily leaving their home.

And then the other thing on top of that is just, well, if you don’t have some of these elements, are there things that you could relatively easily add in there, right, or implement to be able to get people to do that?

PAS It makes sense being helpful, being authentic, yes.

AG Yes, and another thing we’ve seen that’s been incredibly useful for this is just offering things for free that maybe would have been premium before, this has been especially popular with health and fitness apps, kind of unleashing some of their premium or unlocking some of their premium functionality during this time which one could be seen as something that’s just a nice thing to do, you know, people need to exercise indoors and so they’re considering some of these apps for the first time but then top of that long-term, you know, they might stay with some of these services even after the fact if they’ve enjoyed those experiences.

PAS Let’s see, from your perspective, what are some action items, what’s some advice from you to complement what Amir just shared, what can, what should people be taking back to the office on Monday, I would say office on Monday, to their home work space on Monday and action upon?

LS Absolutely. I think one of the biggest takeaways for me is just it’s a huge opportunity right now to capture a really active audience that’s looking for new content, whether that’s new games, new ways of staying connected and entertained but they’re very hungry for me right now, what we’re seeing kind of globally. So that’s one area.

I think another area is to consider if there are markets ripe for expansion right now, so as we saw with Houseparty and other apps as well and games, because people are looking actively really seeking new content to fill some time at home or just feel connected, it’s a really big opportunity right now to consider what are the other markets where this might resonate that I maybe haven’t had the same level of penetration that I’ve had in some of my core flagship markets.

And another thing I’d say is just from an ad perspective, it might be a really good time to incorporate in-app ads as part of your monetization strategy. So, because there are more eyes and more time being spent, this is kind of a big draw card for ads and it’s a good opportunity to consider that as a revenue stream and with respect to games, sort of kind of as a larger trend we’ve seen, you know, we have seen movement where instead of just having a purely in-app purchase strategy or a purely in-app ads monetization strategy, we’ve seen kind of a hybrid approach happening where, you know, people are being very strategic on how they’re monetizing but they’re leveraging those to get kind of both your whales paying through in-app, both through in-app ads and in-app purchases as well as monetizing other more casual users through in-app ads.

So that’s a really, it’s a good time to consider that given how much time is being spent on mobile, and actually from a recent analysis we did, a recent commissioned analysis for Facebook, we saw that the addition of an ad SDK to facilitate in-app ads monetization actually did not have a negative effect on any performance metrics, so we actually saw things like sessions and time spent and users actually increase in the months following that. So, kind of further proof that it can be – in-app ads can be a really strong tool to leverage as part of your monetization strategy, whether it’s apps or games.

PAS Absolutely, and I’ve seen also data that say that when you acquire a user through a paid strategy, actually they are value for money because compared to organic, there’s difference maybe in the length of the retention curve but, you know, in the activity early on when it counts, it’s paid that brings in valuable users. I wish we had more time to talk about this, maybe I should just have you back more often to share these insights but in the meantime, maybe you can tell our listeners how they can stay in touch with you, how they might even engage with AppAnnie.

AG Yes, so one thing I would highly recommend for everyone is just to check out AppAnnie’s blog, so appannie.com/insights – there’s a lot of really good content there and we’re continuously updating that with new information both about how COVID-19 is impacting the mobile economy but also just other things that are going on.

PAS Absolutely, a go-to there. And of course in addition to all that great content which I do read regularly especially your blogs, Lexi, how would our listeners engage with the other services that AppAnnie offers?

LS Absolutely. So, we actually have a free product available to anyone, you just sign up at appannie.com and you can track things like app rankings and get a feel for some of the data that’s available. Beyond that, we also offer a free product that has things for user acquisition, ASO tools to be able to benchmark competitively, things with ad creatives and advertising strategies as well as market data and app data round your competitive sets. So there’s a full suite of products available both free and some

paid, so please head over to appannie.com to kind of take a look at those.

PAS Absolutely, and we’ll have more about that in the show notes and we always have a transcript with every show as well. But in the meantime, we’ve run out of time so we do have to wrap it up this time, I make a promise, we’ll have them back more often because, as I said, we do need data, we do need insights, we need strategic actionable items that we can implement into our own strategies going forward in these very challenging times.

And of course if you want to keep up with me throughout the week or find out more about how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, peggy@mobilegroove.com, mobilegroove.com.

And you can also check out earlier episodes of our show by going to wmr.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So until next time – remember – every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. Keep well, stay safe and we’ll see you soon.

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