Mobile Marketing in 2021: trends and thoughts

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Anna Kochetkova
Mobile Marketing in 2021: trends and thoughts

Table of Content:

  1. What were the most significant changes in the mobile marketing industry in 2020?
    • COVID-19
    • IDFA and privacy
    • The Consoles changes
  2. What categories will be popular next year?
  3. The Future of Apple Search Ads
  4. The App Store updates
  5. Changes with the Chinese mobile market
  6. Google vs Apple
  7. ASO and mobile marketing 2021: what to expect and how to get prepared?

Wow, 2020. The year that will go down in history as a crazy rollercoaster few of us were prepared for. The Mobile market witnessed tsunami-like motions in some verticals and complete droughts in others. With the looming deployment of the IDFA, success in mobile marketing becomes more and more challenging.

To assess the lessons 2020 taught us and to get a better look at things to come in 2021, we gathered the A-team of mobile marketing experts to participate in the Mobile marketing in 2020 & forecast for 2021 webinar:

  • Anna Kochetkova - Head of Consulting at AppFollow
  • Ilya Kukharev - Head of ASO at AppFollow
  • Johannes von Cramon - Co-founder of Growfirst
  • Thomas Petit - ASO Expert

First, let’s recap what has happened in 2020.

What were the most significant changes in the mobile marketing industry in 2020?


Obvious, but nonetheless: COVID-19 made many businesses go online, and the climbing CPC and CPM prices reflect that change really well. At the end of the year it was crazy - Christmas shopping, Black Friday and other events contributed to the fact that a lot of the purchases are now made online, and it’s likely to stay that way throughout 2021. The mobile market continues to gain more traffic. At the same time, more traffic means more competition, so it’s much more challenging to ensure steady user acquisition.

Some verticals in the mobile app world suffered huge traffic losses, such as the travel industry, while others — like gaming, and education have been on the rise ever since the lockdowns were imposed. The revenue did not exactly match this trend in all cases, which is a wake-up call for many businesses to take a hard look at their strategy, monetization, and ASO.

IDFA and privacy

IDFA being slowly rolled out is another thing that brings great change forward. In case you’re unfamiliar with IDFA, it’s a privacy policy Apple is deploying (scheduled for full deployment in September 2021), centered around the convenience of the user and the prevention of unnecessary user data sharing. For now, it’s hard to say how many users will be open to sharing data, as recent data shows that only 5-10% of users take their time to allow data sharing needed for proper attribution.

IDFA itself presents yet another challenge for many mobile marketers since it will be much more difficult in the post-IDFA world to do proper attribution and targeting. Of course, there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes with IDFA, which we’ll get into a little bit later. For now (as of January 2021) you’ve still got time to prepare and look for other user acquisition channels.

In addition to IDFA, Apple introduced nutrition labels. These are little snippets that explain what users’ data is collected. They are not likely to affect developers and your conversion to installs, as the major part of users choose during the onboarding what data to share. Seems like it’s another level of legal protection that will help Apple to keep tabs on the app developers. Might Apple delete your app if they don’t like what you do with the user data? Probably. So keep that in mind when developing and updating your apps.

The Consoles changes

There were a lot of updates in Google Play and App Store Connect consoles. It’s now possible to start App Store apps on Mac, which is a great thing all in itself, but not without flaw: the differences in app design philosophy simply cannot conform to two different platforms at the same time.

On one hand, you’ve got touch motions, swiping, docking and so on, and on the other - a keyboard and mouse. The real question is: what is the use case of the App Store apps for Mac? What are the benefits that cannot be provided via the website version of the app, for instance? This might be more beneficial when it comes to iPad apps, as they are more in-line with the desktop philosophy of app design.

There are a lot of open questions, and we will see in the next year how these will play out.

As per Google Play, they enhanced their console’s analytics with new features and filters by country, metrics and more to allow you to slice and dice your data. 

But the major change is the unification of paid and organic traffic in the Acquisition Report. Meaning that it will be extremely hard to count ROI of your paid campaigns and evaluate the efficiency of your ASO and organic UA. That’s no fun. The solution? Use third-party services. Not much you can do.


At the end of 2020, a lot of startups and projects in EdTech, online communication, gaming, home fitness, and some other verticals began to receive funding from investors. While it’s safe to say that these verticals will continue to grow after the lockdowns are lifted, the question is — for how long? We are social creatures, and once we can reconnect and get some fresh air, the common opinion is that we will all go for it, thus, we will see a decrease in use of apps in these verticals.

The remote communication tools, like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and others, are likely to stay indefinitely now that the businesses took their time to adopt this tech into their workflows.

The Future of Apple Search Ads

It’s becoming the only channel with proper tracking and attribution when it comes to the App Store, considering IDFA and other privacy changes. It’s safe to say that this user acquisition channel will be successful in 2021.

Apple is consolidating the ad business within its ecosystem, and ensures that its own policies and services work in harmony with each other. However, there are underlying issues that will pop up once ASA gains more and more traffic — such as scalability. How many open points are there for ASA to post an ad? It’s known that Apple has been tinkering with their News sections and their stock apps to introduce new ad placements there, but it’s a dangerous road to go on.

It’s hard to say for sure what’s going on behind the scenes, yet it’s clear as day that another way to display ad inventory for Apple is on its way.

The App Store updates

The one thing that hasn’t seen any significant changes in a long time is the App Store layout itself. The last time there were changes were during iOS 11 — 4 years ago, which is a really long time in the mobile market.

Considering the actions Apple is taking at the moment with ASA, IDFA, and others, it is likely that there will be a significant revamp of the App Store to accommodate for their own ads network (and the convenience of the user, of course).

No telling when this will happen, though. Apple will be able to control and curate the app visibility much more, which might be great for the successful apps with considerable ad budgets, but not so much for indie devs. Will it be the right power dynamic to help expensive, big apps get visibility and leave small, simple apps unable to get downloads without ad spend?

Changes with the Chinese mobile market

Apple is getting along with the Chinese government more and more. In fact, there are tons of app stores in China, more than 300. Xiaomi store, Samsung store, and many others.

Huawei is aggressively expanding their own app store, and many app developers are looking forward to trying to gain a presence there as well. For now, it seems that the gaming category is more successful there at the moment, and for other apps, there is a stalemate. The users wait for app developers to publish good apps, and the app developers are waiting for users to show that they’re ready to use the Huawei app store. It remains to be seen who will make the first move. Even so, Huawei is trying really hard to get developers and users on board.

It’s hard to say if any of these app stores will ever match Google or Apple in terms of reach and size. It’s a completely different ecosystem, and it’s incredibly hard to make it on the Chinese market without a Chinese team, but worth a try.

Google vs Apple

Following the Epic Games’ clash with Apple that resulted in supporting indie devs, will Google do that too?

Most likely Google will follow suit, but it won’t get nearly as much credit as Apple did when the whole thing went down. You can’t really take credit for looking after the indie developer’s odds of success on your platform after someone else has already done it. What Google can do, however, is take a different stance that is also pro-developer, and is focused around Google’s own ad ecosystem.

In regards to IDFA, Google has a version of it called the AAID. Google will probably delay full introduction of it for now (because $$$), but at some point regulations of this kind will be passed in the governments around the world and they will have to do that anyway.

Other ad networks (the biggest being Facebook) will suffer greatly once IDFA and AAID are commonplace on the mobile market. The lack of attribution will make targeted advertising incredibly hard to do, and other ad networks will have to adapt to this as well.

ASO and mobile marketing 2021: what to expect and how to get prepared?

Review your marketing and be one step ahead. Everything is changing, app stores keep on bringing new rules into the game: IDFA, app removal from the Chinese App Store, and everything we discussed in this article. To stay afloat, you need to see what can affect you the most and react momentarily, not being afraid of changes.

  1. Start to test and implement Apple Search Ads.
  2. Invest in App Store Optimization. With paid UA getting more expensive and its results are becoming less transparent, even big companies will start investing in organic channels. Pay more attention to experiments in ASO and use it as another way to evaluate efficiency of marketing campaigns. It may be the fastest in terms of seeing ROI, but users coming from organic acquisition are more likely to use your app longer than others.
  3. Set up your own trustworthy app analytics but always compare it to the consoles’ data.
  4. Don’t put all eggs into one basket. Diversify your attribution channels, think about switching to aggregated solutions from MMPs and ways of keeping remarketing alive, try new app stores.

Check out the Mobile marketing in 2020 & forecast for 2021 webinar for more in-depth info. 

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