Whenever I write about lifetime value (LTV), I always try to stress that the key to growing a high LTV is retention. I recently came across an article, The One Growth Metric that Moves Acquisition, Monetization, and Virality by Brian Balfour, one of the top experts on growth, that does a wonderful job of showing just how powerful retention is to your LTV. Balfour identifies four areas that retention impacts.
As you improve retention of existing users, you also acquire more new customers. A number of organic acquisition channels, such as virality and user-generated content (UGC), work when existing users take an action that introduces new users to your game or product (via inviting friends, sharing, word-of mouth, creating new content, etc.). A larger base of active users leads to better acquisition metrics. Players remaining in your game or product can invite new people to the product, so the more you retain, the more players who can send invites.
Monetization is the second area impacted by retention. I get very frustrated when people, usually Product Managers, act as if there is a trade-off between retention and monetization. The reality is that retention drives monetization rather than damaging it. First, retention allows players to spend more frequently. If you retain a customer for three months rather than one month, they have 3X the opportunity to spend. Moreover, if your model is more robust than simply discreet purchases (either in-app purchases for a game or sales for a retailer), you also generate a longer stream of advertising or subscription revenue the longer the user is engaged with your product.
User acquisition becomes a competitive advantage
Paid user acquisition is one of the critical elements to growing a game or app, you need to have a positive return on ad spend to justify scaling your product. More importantly, since a bidding model drives user acquisition in the app space, with acquisition muscle you can push competitors out of acquisition channels, dominating a market and growing faster. As described earlier, your users are generating more revenue (they are in the product longer so spending more often and driving ad and subscription revenue), you can afford to outspend your competitors.
Retention accelerates your payback period, allowing you to avoid raising additional funds or providing more free cash flow to funnel into acquisition. Payback period is the amount of time to pay for your full loaded user acquisition costs. As Balfour writes, “if you have a longer payback period, you either need to raise more money to fuel acquisition or wait longer to reinvest in acquisition. If you have a shorter payback period you will be able to reinvest the cash earned sooner in acquisition. Since improving retention drives monetization – meaning you make more money over a designated period of time – it also shortens your payback period.”
Build with retention top of mind
With retention driving so much value, you need both to create products that will retain customers or players and then the live services need to focus on improving retention. While it is sexy to try to boost ARPDAU, you will create the most value by strengthening your retention.
- Retention is the most important area to focus on, as it drives four areas critical to growth: virality, monetization, paid acquisition and payback period.
- Retention generates more users because there is more virality, word of mouth, user generated content and an ability to spend more to acquire.
- Retention drives revenue because players have more opportunities to make purchases and generate additional advertising and subscription revenue.