App Marketing During an Economic Downturn: Part I

App Marketing in Economic Downturn

Running a business during an economic downturn takes resilience, creativity and more than a dash of optimism. Marketing can feel particularly challenging at this time as during times of economic uncertainty it’s one of the first sectors to feel the effect. You just need to look at the fact that at the height of the pandemic there was a 43% drop in marketing spend as evidence of that.

But there is good news.

According to the Harvard Business Review, the Companies that have rebounded the strongest from previous recessions were not the ones that cut their budgets or marketing spend.  The Companies that came out in the best position to succeed were the ones that adjusted to the new economic realities and adjusted their marketing spend and techniques accordingly.

Times like these are hard, but they can also hold opportunities for mobile and app marketers. These can not only help you navigate this period but come out the other side with a stronger and healthier future for your app; a future where you can safeguard your app growth efforts. 

So, we’ve pulled together a two-part blog post series, where we discuss some strategies to help you navigate and prioritise sustainable business growth for your app during these more difficult economic periods.

Part one will focus on businesses that have taken a cut to their marketing budgets this year, and tips for how you can continue your growth efforts despite these challenges.

Finetune your offering

It’s not just deal-hunting apps that boom during a recession, there are plenty of money-adjacent apps that can finetune their value proposition to acknowledge consumers’ need to spend less.

When Uber launched during a recession, they knew that their killer USP was the fact that taxi rides would cost far less, not necessarily the ability to track journeys or pay via the app. If there is a cost-saving element to your offering, now is the time to shout about it.

In-app Events can be an excellent and low-cost way to address your users and add value to your app. By being aware of people’s current lifestyle – hunting for deals, spending more time at home, foregoing luxuries – you might begin to spot an opportunity for your app to assist them. Create an in-app event highlighting that or providing a tutorial, and you can address them directly.

In-App Event Screenshot
In-App Event Screenshot. Source: App Store

Take advantage of fewer competitors

Not every company will be prepared to maintain their marketing course, which means the marketplace will be less noisy and your activity will have more of an impact.

Inevitably there will be casualties to this downturn, and these are opportunities for you – after all, if a user stops being able to use their app, they’re likely to look for an alternative. You can even adapt your marketing message to highlight how your app offers the same killer feature their previous app did, to attract their users specifically.

We also find that in times of crisis a lot of apps turn off their brand defence campaigns on Apple Search Ads, whereby they bid on their own name to ensure they appear at the top. Smaller brands can often take advantage of this by bidding on those names, benefiting from the larger brands’ equity and giving them an opportunity to further penetrate the market.

Expand your organic marketing

While marketing during a recession is difficult for most, it’s a time where organic efforts really shine. App Store Optimisation (ASO) is crucial on an evergreen basis, but really comes into its own when budgets are tight. We go into depth about ASO power here, including how to optimise your metadata for Google and Apple (one size really doesn’t fit all, in this case), how to build your keyword list and how to create the most compelling creative assets for your app.

And while digital advertising can be expensive, social media and content marketing is less so – 62% less by some estimates. Producing this content is the first step, but to maximise reach it needs to be as shareable as possible. That means that not only does the quality need to be high, there needs to be a baked-in and compelling reason for the reader or viewer to forward, like or comment.

Make sure your Creative hits – hard

Having a strong Creative team is incredibly important when budgets are tight – images and copy need to work harder than ever when you’re limited on how much money you can spend to display it.

Re-utilising assets increases their ROI, so consider whether you can use in-app screens from the App Store on your social media or tutorial videos recut for advertising channels.  Influencer content works particularly well on Facebook and Instagram, so make sure you’ve extracted every last drop of value out of any influencer campaigns or tie-ins you’ve run, by re-editing and uploading as ads or User Generated Content (UGC) on your own page. Just make sure you’ve got usage cleared legally before posting.

UGC Ad Example
UGC Ad Example from Rheal. Source: Facebook Ad Library.

A word of caution however: each platform has its own style of content, so it’s not just a case of taking one video or image and running it across every platform. Spend time adapting it to suit the platform in question, whether that’s through the style of editing, using it as part of a meme or adding on-screen text.

Understand your users via data

When money is tight, you can’t waste it – and not knowing your users can be a common money pit. Now is the time to validate any assumptions you’ve made about your user base, as well as double check that what was true then is still true now.

Data-based decision making is key to this, ensuring that you only spend money where your actions are going to have a positive impact. Measuring the relevant metric is key to that. It’s common for people to focus on the cost per thousand/install/registration, but ultimately, it’s about how many people click on your ad and install your app.

A Mobile Measurement Partner (MMP) to provide this data is an investment but doesn’t need to cost the earth as many have scalable pricing models. We wrote about our top picks here – now is the time to get on board. 

Use more automation

With the AI boom, it is clear incorporating automation into your work streams will save time and money. Now is the time to train your employees on the skills they need to integrate automation into their roles to make them more efficient and productive.

We wrote about ways in which AI can help here, including keyword research and competitor insight. Just remember to read all the way to the end for a sobering lesson on why you can’t rely 100% on any kind of artificial intelligence (yet).

ChatGPT Research Example.
ChatGPT Competitor Research Example. Source: ChatGPT.


There is no doubt that app marketing during a recession is going to pose some big challenges for businesses. However, it strengthens the argument for holistic and data-led growth strategies for app owners. Prioritising your App Store Optimization efforts, ensuring you are tracking and attributing all of your marketing efforts and growth metrics, and finding ways to reutilise content and creative are all ways you can save your business both time and budget.

If you are lucky enough to retain your app marketing budget for the year, stay tuned in our next post as we cover ways that you can maximise opportunities for growth during these times.

Smokehouse Yard, 44-46, St John Street, London, EC1M 4DF 🇬🇧

Smokehouse Yard, 44-46, St John Street, London, EC1M 4DF 🇬🇧