MAU 2018: To grow in a mature mobile market, you have to look globally

by Lewis Leong on Apr 30, 2018

Thousands of mobile marketers gathered in Las Vegas, Nevada this week for this year’s Mobile Apps Unlocked (MAU) conference, and if there is one trend that stood out, it’s that mobile developers are increasingly going global in order to stay competitive in a mature market.

Bertrand Schmitt, CEO of App Annie, kicked off MAU by providing stats about the current state of the app economy. According to Schmitt, global app downloads surpassed 175 billion in 2017, a 60% increase from just two years ago, and in-app spend has surpassed $86 billion.

Mobile’s global expansion

Domestically, the US has hit a saturation point, but the mobile market is still healthy. According to Schmitt, the average US mobile consumer uses 36 apps per month. This statistic surprised many marketers at MAU, as it contradicts other reports of app usage trending downward. However, the majority of US consumers download zero apps per month, sticking to the same core group of apps they use every day. While app usage itself is still healthy, US developers are increasingly looking at markets abroad to grow their businesses.

App Annie download growth

Source: App Annie

When it comes to which global market to target next, China and India are clear winners. China dominates in overall volume of downloads, but India shows the most growth potential with a 215% increase in downloads from 2015 to 2017, exceeding the number in the US for the first time in 2017. The potential for the Indian market was a topic of discussion at GDC 2018, as game developers are beginning to look seriously at the market for expansion.

While China is obviously a market with huge potential, there’s fear that WeChat’s dominance will hurt the app industry because the app handles everything from mobile payments to content distribution. But in reality, Chinese mobile users use over 40 apps per month (out of the 100 installed on their phones), exceeding the number of apps used in the US.

With huge growth in China and India, it’s easy to forget to look outside of those geographies. Two lesser-known countries that are seeing substantial growth and opportunity are Vietnam and Turkey. While it may be difficult to monetize there now, marketers should have a strategy for these emerging markets.

Creatives: The next frontier


Another trend we saw at MAU 2018 is that creatives are becoming more and more important in a mature mobile market. The ease of purchasing ads via ad platforms has made the mobile advertising landscape much more competitive, resulting in elevated consumer expectations. Static ads just won’t cut it anymore, and if your video or playable creatives aren’t up to par, they won’t resonate with consumers, especially if you’re looking to expand globally.

One way to ensure your creatives are performing to their potential is to continually test. Brian Bowman, Founder & CEO of, recommends testing, failing fast, and creating variations of the winner as quickly as possible. According to Bowman, 95% of your variations will fail, so you’ll have to figure out a way to fail quickly and cheaply. A good place to start is by looking at our guide on ad creatives to set up a baseline creative to test. And for brands who are worried that not every ad is 100% brand compliant, Bowman says there’s minimal impact: “Prototype ads don’t last very long, so they don’t damage your brand. If you can nail 75% design compliance, you can come up with concepts much quicker.”

If you’re developing creatives for other markets, you must make sure they are localized beyond a simple language change, depending on what type of app you’re advertising. For gaming, showing gameplay may be enough for a creative. With non-gaming apps, it’s a bit more complex, and your creatives must adhere to local customs and messaging. For example, news app SmartNews discovered that Japanese users consumed much more buzz-worthy and entertainment content, so it modified its creatives to appeal to the Japanese market.

The rise of automation


As the mobile market matures, so do the tools used by marketers. One marketing tool that’s becoming increasingly popular is machine learning. In the mobile marketing space, machine learning is making ad buying easier than ever. Facebook, for example, allows users to check a box that lets machine learning take over to optimize for placement and optimize your budget across ad sets. But while machine learning has made ad buying much easier, it won’t provide mobile marketers with a global strategy. Humans will still be needed to craft strategies for expanding globally.

“[Machine learning] can’t make new creatives, brand, position, or market something new in your product,” said Ngozi Ogbonna, Co-Chair, Global Panels & Partnerships of Women in Wireless.

Wilson Kriegel, Chief Business Officer at PicsArt, agreed with her. “Once you have your strategy, automation is great, but it won’t create a strategy for you. Automation doesn’t help with trends. Someone has to create a trend,” he said.

Mobile continues to mature globally, and marketers will have to mature with it. With mobile growing rapidly in emerging markets, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to scale your business without going global. With the introduction of automation tools, it’s easier than ever for marketers to distribute ads, but reaching your desired audience will be more difficult with fierce competition coming from an ever-more saturated market. To truly succeed in today’s mobile market, you have to look beyond your borders.

Lewis Leong is AppLovin's Content Marketing Manager.