Some months ago, an acquisition took place that while understandable, raised eyebrows at SaltyPistachio: Activision acquiring StoreMaven.
Let’s start with why it was understandable:
Years ago, the app stores (especially Apple’s App Store) did not provide much in the way of data analytics when it came to creative testing. The Google Play Console did allow for basic AB testing with Google Experiments, but there wasn’t (even today) any way to control of the source of traffic. In our view, this renders AB Tests invalid: If one of your variants matches that of an acquisition campaign accounting for most of your traffic, it might outperform other variants, but this doesn’t mean it was a better performing.
There was clearly a need for companies (especially in the gaming space) to optimise app store creatives. After all, a 5% improvement in conversions thanks to AB testing can equate to huge savings and increased organic downloads for high volume apps (and/or those with high CPIs). Enter companies like StoreMaven and SplitMetrics (now Splitmetrics Optimize):
It worked a bit like this: You could create a ‘pretend’ App Store Product page that had all the tracking that the App Store or Play Store didn’t provide: You could get click tracking, heatmaps, and even how many images were scrolled or for how long they spent viewing videos.
Clearly, having this information would be useful, but there were a couple of ‘catches’: As mentioned, the traffic was going to a ‘pretend’ Product Page, that once the user decided to install, they were sent to the real Product Page. Of course, that leads to some users being confused and abandoning their intention to install.
The other catch is that you needed to send traffic to those pages. For instance, you could send traffic from a Facebook Ads campaign (and this before counting on the cost of using the platform – especially considering their opaque pricing)
Clearly, both things combined meant there was a significant cost to learning. Still, for the right company this could be valuable. And so many gaming companies used these kinds of tools.
Move forward some years and while Google Play Console’s capabilities remain pretty much untouched, the App Store first added Creative Tests on Apple Search ads, to then improve the testing capabilities with last year’s introduction of the Custom Product Pages:
Apps can now create up to 35 Custom Product pages (read Landing Pages) and send traffic to these. Not only Tap Through Rates and Taps to Install can be asserted, but also the ultimate CPI. And if you use a tool like Appsflyer, you can even learn ARPUs or LTVs per user. All of this directly from within Apple’s Search Ads.
It’s no wonder the value of these tools like StoreMaven was decimated. We’re certain some companies could find an edge in using those marginal games, but we’d be hard pressed to recommend them ahead of the benefits of using Apple Search Ads directly.
Let’s move to the why it raised eyebrows:
And so, it wasn’t that surprising these companies ended up struggling, or that StoreMaven was acquired. Yet what we found surprising was the lack of buzz at Activision / Take2 being the acquirer.
It clearly makes sense for a company like Activision – counting with loads of games in the app stores to get expertise leading to improvements in the Stores. We’d guess some of their apps would have been some of their last loyal clients. But it must have been quite a reaction for CMOs of Activision / Take2 competitors who used StoreMaven: Surely their first thought must have been regarding experiments data carried during years.
Not only they spent traffic to acquire that traffic over years and paid their licenses for it, but Activision and their apps could now correlate their experiments with their decision making on creative iteration for years. AFter all, tools like MobileAction or AppTweak give visibility on historical changes made.
More recently, German agency Phiture acquired ASOGiraffe (a small competitor of StoreMaven), so a similar situation arises: If you used ASO Giraffe and your competitor uses Phiture, they’ll have indirect access to your data.
Had these been acquisitions at larger scales, we think it would have triggered concerns by competition regulators. And so, it makes us think that for any brand, using these kind of analytics raises a grave concern: What if your data ended up with your competitors?