AGS NYC 2021 Recap: App Growth Strategies at Every Step Along the Acquisition Funnel


On October 27th, App Growth Summit held a dual style, in-person and virtual (live stream) event in New York. Nancy Roberts, CMO of YouAppi, hosted a full-funnel-focused panel with Annica Lin, Vice President of Growth Marketing at Sable, Kate Palmer, Senior Director of Growth at STASH, and Rockford Yapp, VP of Acquisition at 

The panel titled App Growth Strategies at Every Step Along the Acquisition Funnel, included conversations about the importance of post-install user onboarding, retargeting strategies, and tips to assist in creating incremental optimization every step along the way. Here are the key questions with tips from the discussion.


Nancy: What channels work the best for you when it comes to acquisition?


 Annica: For fintech, we have two main target audience groups. When we launch the product, the main focus is more on international people before they come to the United States, as it's a challenge for them to get an account here. After we launched the product and the product evolved, we also attracted attention from US citizens that are looking to build their credit as an adjacent audience. 

As far as channels our mix is pretty standard, and we don’t have an unlimited budget to spend. Each has its own functions: paid search is driving the highest intent, competitive for the product we have. For UAC, paid social there isn’t much we can do except to rely on machine learning and just allow the algorithm to work. Overall, be sure to have a mix of channels and split your budget allocation for the overall CAC.


Rockford: Similar approach in the beginning actually, just to have a mix of channels like paid social, search, display networks..and things like that. TikTok more recently has become more of a thing with financial influencers - people that talk about money, investing on social media. Creators have become a much bigger part of our media mix. [If you teach the algorithm to show you financial content, you’ll see the influencers you can use] It's been a huge part with the younger audiences which is our core demo currently. Those younger professionals that are just starting out in their careers, getting more disposable income, are learning about investing, [with TikTok] you are reaching these people where they are. If they have somebody that they know and are familiar with [influencers] recommending a product to them that they use, it's a powerful message to get a foot in the door for them to start their investing journey. 


Nancy: Accessibility is really the theme of today, walk me through how you started marketing your app? How has it matured today?


Kate: When I joined, an incredible framework had already been laid out by the first growth marketer, and she did an incredible job launching the initial marketing initiatives. Annica on our panel was actually the first growth marketer at Stash. 

When I came in, we were going through a transitional time at Stash. We were always a subscription, but we had just launched the tier subscription, stock pack card, and bank and so there were a lot of new avenues to explore. Because of that, we had dialed way back on the acquisition efforts, only running on Facebook and UAC and a handful of other OOH (out of home) things. With goals to triple subscribers in a few months, during this growth stage, our strategy was just to test anything and everything. Run everything and see what works and what doesn’t. We have a mass appeal, going after that everyday American that doesn’t know much or have experience about the stock market, so literally, we ran everything and anything to reach that group. Launching tests left and right and we still have that strategy today.


Rockford: We have the same strategy now as well, just to cover ground. In the beginning, our testing strategy was very intentional and incremental to conserve the little budget we had at the time. There was that cultural shift to investing just happened [reference to GameStop] and everything just blew up and so now we place a lot of small bets across the board and the ones that show promise, we’ll bet big and just hope that we find that next big successful channel. We had a small user base until the Gamestop thing happened and we were able to double our user base by the next month because of that.


Annica: Growth marketing perspective is nothing new, creative testing and messaging are very important core for growth. For attribution and tracking, the Sable app is an app-only company, but our engineering team created a new onboarding form on the web for us to also run web campaigns. Customers go to the landing page with a mini onboarding flow, which will lead them to download the app which has allowed us to capture the web inventory audience much better. Product perspective, product leads growth. If you don't have a good product, don't waste your money on the marketing budget. Listen to the customer and use that to build the product, prioritize the most important features being asked for. 


Question: KYC (Know Your Customer) has come up a lot. For fintech apps, how do you build trust with users to trade stocks, etc using an online-only platform? How do you get them to commit to you?


Annica: The best way is to have a good product and then you will likely have good reviews so we track that. The first thing I do is read our reviews every day and not just numbers. [Reads sample review] This validates and makes me want to get up in the morning. This makes me know that the work we are doing is paying off and makes me want to get up and make things happen for them. I don't want to get emotional...they like the product and trust us.


Nancy: Coming from gaming in the past, in terms of KYC in user acquisition and what you’ve learned in gaming, how does that transfer over to fintech?


Rockford: It's very different. In gaming, typically you don't know any of your customers, statistically, unless you know your VIPs or your big whales, you don't really know who they are. In Fintech we have the most qualified customer base in the world because you have to ask for a name, social security number, ask income questions, and investing experience which is much bigger than asking someone to install an app and play a game for maybe 20-30 min before they churn. The barrier to entry is much much higher but it allows you to give a much better experience to your customers once they get through, because it allows you to dictate how to build a better product and where to acquire new customers. It's a very different experience but it is interesting because there is a much bigger hurdle to jump in the beginning, but once they're in, and you understand your customers much better and their wants and needs and where they are at in their life, you can use that information to tailor the product experience for them. The biggest trust builder is a good product, having a good product is the most important thing. You can't use good marketing to fix a bad product, so if you have a good product is the most important thing and that's one of the big advantages of having a very thorough KYC. 


Annica: We just launched our referral program. It's taken off because of the good product, the customers trust us, so they know their friends need a product and they refer. We have a little bit of an incentive but not much. When people refer, it's evidence that if you have a good product then marketing is not the biggest worry.


Nancy: Kate, how do you handle user onboarding at Stash? (asking personal information, getting them to commit)


Kate: We actually just completely revamped our onboarding funnel for the first time in many years and it's been a game-changer. Before, it was very long and asked for a lot of personal info upfront and payment was at the end. Many times people would get all the way through and then fall off at the end because they didn't know they had to pay for it. It was crazy. We just revamped the entire thing and it's much shorter now, more user-friendly and respectful. When people come in they’re not like “why are you asking me all these very personal questions” from the beginning. We are giving you this reasoning of why we are asking these personal questions while backing it up by saying “we are FDIC insured” and have other confidence type messaging continuously throughout the funnel so that once you get to the payment portion where we are asking for money, they feel comfortable doing so


Nancy: That trust-building is so important from the get-go. Making that process shorter is better, get the pertinent information, get them to commit, once you have them, then it's easier to get them back. Placing the social security number question in the right spot makes a difference in building that trust.

So, you get the user through the door, and you haven't seen them in a few days, but they are ready to do the action… When it comes to KPIs in Fintech, what metrics do you look at first, and why are they different [from Gaming] depending on the acquisition channel?


Rockford: Realistically, they are not all that different [from gaming]. We are still optimizing for CAC and for ROAS, so a lot of the same things as you would optimize for in gaming. It's just how you go about finding those users is different. It's really common to have a big chunk of your budget in those in-game reward video placements in gaming, but those channels don't work as well for fintech. They work great for gaming, because where do you look for other gamers? In games. Where do you look for investors? Not always in gaming. We still experiment with those channels, and the fundamentals are largely the same but where you find them is different, and also how you can/are able to message them is different. There are so many more compliance rules and disclosures, how you can present your product, what you can and can’t promise in fintech and so we can’t get away with some of the same messaging things that you can in gaming. So overall, where you find them and how you communicate your product to them is very different but a lot of the metrics are the same. 


Nancy: Kate you mentioned earlier, the messaging approvals you have to go through now to get creative messaging are much different than in gaming.


Kate: Yes… wow, gaming did not prepare me for this process when I came to fintech. In gaming I was used to coming up with ideas, getting everything together, and in a day, I could launch. Now? no... the amount of time that it takes to get one line of copy approved, plus all the pages of disclosures we’d have to include just to have that one line of copy. Half the time it's not even worth it. When we were experimenting with influencers before the FCC changed their rules on influencers, it had to be someone that did not use the product, and plenty more specific rules regarding messaging, that a lot of the time the videos end up being so vague using a bunch of extra situational words, that it almost makes the ad seem like.. “what is this? Why are we paying for this?” This is nonsense. 


Nancy: So then how does that apply in retargeting? If the messaging has to be so specific and careful, how do you say you were just looking at my app, and bring them back?


Kate: So we don't do a lot of actual retargeting like that. Like you’ve seen our app, or interacted with this.. come back. In our onboarding funnel, obviously, people fall off because we are asking for all this personal information, but on the very first screen that you hit when you open up the app, we ask you to provide an email address and password. From that moment on, depending on where you fall off, we send a series of emails - we call this our rescue strategy - where we are literally rescuing people at different points in the funnel. Depending on where you have fallen off, the messaging would change, tailored to that point in the funnel, with messaging to provide confidence to build trust at that stage of the funnel. If you don't interact with any of those emails, we periodically send out mass blast emails to those people, where we offer them increasingly more promotions encouraging them to come back and continue down the funnel as time goes on.


Rockford: Retargeting for us is similar depending on where you drop off in the funnel. We also ask for emails up front and so we also use email blasts, tailoring the messaging for each point in the funnel. A lot of our retargeting is email. The other big thing that's been big for us is because we are relatively young, we didn't always have all the features that our audiences wanted as we launched. So as we add those features — crypto, for example — a lot of young users wanted this and we are able to recover them. Even though we didn't have crypto before we do now and so we will message them letting them know. 


Annica: Retargeting is very similar for us. If we have a user coming to open an account, luckily they put the money in but they haven't done anything else, what do we do? Based on your most important action metric, which for us is spending, we utilize life cycle marketing to apply triggers. We enter them into a workflow with specific messaging to explain to them the benefits of spending (our goal) to better engage the user. So, it's a form of retargeting but less on the acquisition size, but more and the engagement. 



  • Have a variety of channels with budgets split between a healthy mix. Test anything and everything just to see what works. Volume works overall, but then invest more in what's performing well. 
  • Product matters - a good product will lead marketing. Learn the onboarding funnel, what your customers want in our app and then deliver what they want.
  • KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER - this builds trust, gets referrals and increases app usage.
  • Finding users and messaging in fintech is very unique, compared to gaming. Lots more hoops to jump through and so traditional processes or tactics won’t work.
  • Like the user acquisition process, retargeting is equally different in fintech. Email marketing for a leaky funnel and full cycle marketing are effective strategies, beyond the direct “come back to the app” type of strategy.