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Are You Asking The Right Questions To Unlock Mobile-First Data Intelligence?


Founder and CEO of Apptopia, the app data insights and intelligence company, with clients including Google, Zoom, Visa and NBC.

Everyone talks about data. But data, without intelligence, is just a bunch of numbers. Even worse, it’s the wrong numbers. Or the right numbers, but at the wrong time, with less-than-useful conjecture.

As CEOs, we need to see the big picture, but that’s made up of millions of data points within a business. Your direct reports — product, technology, business development, marketing, growth and so on — “own” their vertical in terms of data inputs and outputs. But none of them give you the overall landscape, the near future and the granularity you need to manage the business as a whole. Business intelligence departments have become valuable for this reason and are now arguably the most important department reporting to the executive team.

In order to obtain data that will yield true business intelligence, you need to start by asking the right questions.

The Right Questions

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What are the questions you should ask to get the data you need? A common pitfall for CEOs looking at mobile data is to over-optimize for growth. For example, within the entertainment sector, metrics often focus on net new downloads. But a download is simply the first conversion. In a saturated (i.e., domestic) market, net new downloads isn’t a very helpful metric. So the question for the head of business intelligence needs to pivot toward retention (domestic) balanced against growth (international). That gives you a much richer picture of the business overall. However, you’d be surprised how many people are still focused on growth at the expense of other, more useful metrics.

Usage is another data point that contains a huge amount of granularity, and just checking session frequency — without including time spent — is not that helpful. The CEO needs to determine and make clear to the team how their ideal user should be engaging with the app. Take, for example, Strava, the social app for athletes (or those who aspire to be athletes). Even a hardcore user might rack up just one 45-minute session a day, probably during an exercise session. On the other hand, someone might check a weather app multiple times a day, especially during unseasonal patterns.

If you’re only tracking session frequency without correlating it with time spent, you might well make an erroneous assumption about the popularity of your app. You also won’t know what to do with that data to move the needle on your business. But if you track time spent alongside session frequency, drawing a correlation between the two in your reporting, you’ll know how to better allocate marketing spend. For example, you’d know that the person engaging in short bursts of activity on the weather data app will be best reached with rotating ad campaigns. But the Strava athlete will be better served with branded content for deeper engagement, the sort of relationship-building material that will lead, in time, to a greater financial reward.

Potential Causes

When your team focuses on growth at the expense of everything else, you’re in trouble. Yes, the numbers will look good (at first), but you might be heading for a fail state — game over. It’s crucial to identify the potential causes of any sudden increase.

We’ve probably all seen apps that get a huge spike in downloads/usage because an influencer stumbled upon the app or agreed to a paid promotional piece. What’s not to love about a spike in usage? Nothing, unless it’s fleeting. This is often the case in business, and mobile apps are no exception. Those new users aren’t going to stick around because they weren’t your core customer segment. They clicked on a link because someone they liked told them to. They downloaded, sure. But soon they’ll uninstall because they didn’t find what they were looking for.

If you can track back to the potential cause — in the above example, the influencer’s shoutout — then you can assess the value of that outcome. Is a TikTok mention that drives downloads as valuable as a Forbes article that accomplishes the same thing? Maybe. Maybe not. It all depends on your business.

Determining potential causes is a really important and underutilized metric. Get your business intelligence team to present changes in data tied to a ranked list of marketing activities, promotions and downloads. Identify which product features and user feedback actually drive revenues. Work with the various app store teams to do A/B testing on new creatives and keep a close eye on what works. Same with bug fixes. Did the fix work? Did users respond positively?

The Consumer Path

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Essentially, if you’re asking the right questions in terms of tracking multiple data points, you’ll know instantly if you picked the wrong friction point in the consumer path. For example, in an app I recently downloaded, I noticed one publisher brought up an in-app purchase barrier far too early in the experience. I left and later discovered that other new users left in droves too. Did the publisher know what caused the churn? Only if they were asking the right questions before tracking data inputs.

Remember that mobile has a lower barrier to entry than other channels, but growth is more fleeting. And building a relationship with users, to maintain their attention and retain a share of wallet? That’s hard.

Be careful about celebrating downloads. Search deeper within your app to identify what the core activities are, the ones that make users want to engage and become loyal customers. Ask the right questions of your data, so it will deliver answers that lead to true business intelligence.


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