In just a few years, mobile apps have become the primary tool for Americans to communicate, consume content, and carry out many of our daily tasks. According to a new report from market research company App Annie, the mobile app economy could double to the north of $100 billion by 2020. That forecast bodes well for app developers but also signals an increasingly crowded marketplace and greater competition to acquire new users. App marketers will have their work cut out for them, but there are several strategies they can use to achieve scale with mobile user acquisition and app installs. Here are a few steps they shouldn’t miss:

Develop a plan

In order to scale in the mobile app space, you must first spend time strategically planning your marketing efforts. Think about your future customers and the need(s) that you’ll be fulfilling with your app, and aim to design the entire experience – from install to everyday usage – around those aspects. Defining measurable goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) is also important. We constantly hear about the massive download numbers from the app stores, but there are also other important metrics that app makers should pay attention to, such as retention. According to Appboy, less than 25% of new app users return after their first use. So, if you’re focused solely on bringing mobile user acquisition and not creating a plan for retaining them, you’re taking one step forward and three steps back.

Understand your target customers

Learning about your users is an extension of the first step – developing a plan – but it’s so important for acquisition that it deserves its own section. App marketing is challenging because it’s not just about finding your customers and reaching them on the right channels but also catching them at the right time. That’s where an understanding of your customers’ behaviors is critical. Partnering with a company that collects self-declared consumer insights will be helpful here, but also speaking with potential users, analyzing competitors, and using big data to uncover usage patterns and trends will go a long way in helping you understand your target users.

Soft launch your app first

Usually, an app marketer’s launch budget is limited, so it’s critical to get the most bang for your buck by properly allocating funds to the channels that will drive the best results. That’s where soft launching is helpful. Soft launching is releasing the app to a small group of users, usually a targeted audience, and measuring performance to help forecast for a broader group later. It allows marketers to get an idea of scale, potential monetary value, and user experience, among other key metrics. This is a step that should not be skipped.

Don’t focus solely on organic growth and going viral

It seems that we’re always hearing about a relatively new app that went viral overnight, so many app founders focus too much on creating the next big viral app. Not only is it very unlikely that your app goes viral, but relying solely on organic and word of mouth can create two challenges: 1) you cannot measure or identify the exact driver of your installs and therefore cannot do more of what’s working for you; 2) you cannot continue your growth after the initial buzz wears off. So the truth is scaling user acquisition requires at least some capital. In the mobile app space, performance marketing is the most cost-effective option because you’re paying for specific actions, not vanity metrics and lost impressions.

App Store Optimization

Just as search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for getting your potential customers to your website, app store optimization (ASO) also helps improve your visibility and get more downloads. ASO includes improving the title and description, using keywords, including great screenshots and app flow images, and managing reviews and user feedback. Here’s a great blog from Mobile Action that touches on many of these important aspects.