After a few app launches, observing many more, talking with several app developers and testing cool services, we’re starting to get a
pretty really good feeling about what can be done to make an app a success.
How would I go about launching a new iOS app?
What would I do to make sure it gets into people’s hands?
This post is meant to describe all we can think of when it comes to iPad or iPhone app marketing and launching an app.
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It’s not a “secret recipe”, and probably not exhaustive. Each app is different, and so should be the marketing strategy. But it’s a good starting point to make sure you consider most of the options.
It’s not a step-by-step: some of these things have to be done simultaneously. Here is what’s covered:
- Build Your Personal Online Presence
- Validate Your Idea
- Choose Your Revenue Model
- Choose Your App Price
- Choose The Right Name
- Start Marketing Within Your App
- Build Your App’s Online Presence
- Get Feedback
- Do App Store Optimization
- Get Your App Reviewed
- Market Your App With Video
- Do “Real-life” Marketing?
- Cross-Promote Your App
- Kill It On Launch Day!
- Improve Engagement With Push Notifications
- Choose The Right Promotion Campaigns
- Measure, Improve & Keep On Marketing
- Final Words
Build Your Personal Online Presence
Most of your app promotion, if not all, will occur on the web and mobile.
No matter how you feel about social media, you have to get started on it. Create a twitter account if you don’t have one already, and consider creating a “pro” Facebook account.
Once that’s done, start using it. Follow/Like people and pages that talk about iPhone app development, app marketing (like us!), great apps, etc. Get to know who is who, who has influence and who shares interesting content you can learn from.
Learn. Share the good stuff, so others start following you too. Interact with others and engage in discussions whenever you feel you can bring value. Join #appdevchat, organized by TapForTap every Thursday at 10 AM PST.
And keep at it. We’ll get back to social media for your app later.
Validate Your Idea
Your must think your iPhone app idea is great. But it couldn’t hurt to make sure of that right?
You’re going to invest a lot of time, efforts and money into building your app. There will be moments where you don’t feel like doing the work, moments of doubts, moments where you’re thinking about giving up.
You want to be certain that there is a market for your app, a demand. You want to know what kind of download volumes and revenue you can get from that app.
You also want to build the app the right way. Do a thorough market research to validate your idea, and you’ll have a much better idea of how to position and market your iOS app.
It doesn’t matter if you’re building a seasonal app, surfing on a trend or targeting a niche market. Analyze what your competition is doing (yes, you have competitors) and read their users reviews on the App Store. Find out what can be improved, what features are useless and cluttering the app and what’s missing.
Your app has to have something different, a unique approach. And you have to (do your best to) know that people will want it.
Your market research can (should?) also be done by directly communicating about your app idea and creating a landing page. Check out the Kissmetrics example in the “Online presence” part of this article.
Choose Your Revenue Model
Figure out how you can make money.
I see two situations where you don’t necessarily need a revenue model:
- You’re building an iPhone or iPad app just as a hobby
- You want to acquire users to later on cross promote with other apps (already built or not)
Other than that, you should find out where you can get revenue from: paid app, in-app purchases, subscriptions, ads, selling a service or product. Or a combination of those. This monetization/pricing “guide” or this report (if you have a game) might help you.
Choose Your App Price
This goes along with the previous point.
You can decide that your app is free, and get revenue from in-app purchases. You still have to decide how much to charge for these in-app purchases.
If you have a paid app, you’ll be able to experiment with it but be careful of the image you give to your potential users. It’s easier to start at a higher price and do price drops than to suddenly charge twice the price.
The price you can charge people depends on your target audience and your app. Some people can happily drop $9.99 for an app (take a look at Audiobus for example), others (or the same ones!) will be reluctant to give you more than $0.99 for another.
Here are two interesting posts on the subject:
Choose the Right Name
Choosing the right name for a product is never easy, and apps are no different.
My suggestion would be to find a name that not only sounds good, but is also relatively explicit and contains a major keyword. If you have a camera app, you need a name that suggests photography and cameras.
When submitting your iOS app, you’ll also need an “extended name”: your app name and a few keywords (like a condensed tagline) to make it clear what your app is about. This is important so users check out your app page, but also so they can find it. Our article on App Store Optimization (ASO) and choosing the right app name should be helpful.
Start Marketing Within Your App
App marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought.
It’s useless to market a weak app, and there are certain aspects that have to be thought off from the very beginning.
It’s not 2009 anymore.
The user experience of your app is critical if you want its sucess. Your app should be easy to use from the very first seconds (you won’t get much more attention than that). Some argue that if your app needs a walkthrough, you blew it. It’s probably not totally true, but you get the point.
People might not use your app like you’re anticipating (more on that a little further), but you have to do your best to make it easy for them to use the core features.
Create mock-ups, try different things and ask the right people for feedback. For your mock-ups, you can use tools like Balsamiq, Evolus’ Pencil or the really handy POP iPhone app (and some dotted paper).
Once you have the first draft, spend a few dollars and ask UX/UI experts for their advice. If you don’t know any, try reaching out to some through Clarity. Don’t expect them to do all the work for you (unless you have the money), but you’ll be surprise how much insight a 30 minutes call can give you. Here are a couple of experts profiles on Clarity:
You need a stunning design. If you’re not a designer, hire a good one. This, in my opinion, is one of the best investments.
If your iOS app is relatively basic and you’re short on money, check out if one of the cool templates at the App Design Vault could be a good fit.
Your design needs to be coherent. This means that the different parts of your app should have the same feel, and also that any visual asset you’re creating (including your app icon) should be consistent with your app design.
Details matter. Small things like sounds and how things move give a general good feeling to users and can make a difference.
Here’s an interesting article on the SPUN app design that talks about a few important points.
This is the hardest part to get right.
If your iPad or iPhone app is great and you market it right, you should get some attention. You should be able to get it reviewed, get some downloads and put it in people’s hands.
App reviews and high downloads volumes are nice. Congratulations, you got people interested enough to download your app.
Do they use it 30 seconds and leave? Do they go back to it twice and then never open it again? Or worse, do they just uninstall it?
You can’t rely only on push notifications. The concept of your app and the user experience have to be such that people keep coming back to your app.
Want to know how your app is doing compared to others in the same category? Check out this post.
Share mechanisms / Virality aspect
And here comes another hardest part (yes, there are several of them).
All downloads spike eventually wear off.
Getting in the top charts is hard but doable. It’s much harder to stay there.
In all cases, you’ll have to keep on marketing your app and giving it the attention it deserves. But it can not be the only way it spreads.
You need users to become your marketers.
You need users to talk to their friends about it.
You need users to share content by themselves.
That means you have to figure what can be “viral” about your app, allow people to share content, make good use of social media via Facebook Open Graph, etc.
Those “shareable” aspects will depend on your app, and are key to its success.
Feedback and Customer Engagement
Having happy users is critical to your app success.
Feedback through your blog and social media
I mentioned it in the previous section, you can use your blog and social media accounts to engage people and start conversations.
If you have a “personal” online presence, ask your followers on Twitter what they think about your app idea. You might discover competitors you hadn’t really thought of (or found), and get interesting ideas.
Early on (once you’re committed to building the app), you should ask your blogs visitors, fans and followers what they think about your app designs: your icon, your home screen, etc. You have 4 different concepts for your icon? Share them with people and let them help you with that choice.
Feedback through a crowdsourcing / crowdfunding campaign
A crowdfunding campaign can help you with several things.
It’s of course a way to get some money for your development or marketing.
But it’s also a way to get early feedback, gauge and generate interest around your app.
Absolutely no one cares about your project? Well, something is probably wrong. Maybe your pitch is not good, maybe your approach is not the right one.
You’re able to get people to follow you, they are excited about your app and suggest you ideas? You’re on the right track, and your funders are most likely future users that will share your app with others when it’s ready.
Don’t get me wrong, a crowdfunding campaign is hard. Especially for an app since there are so many of them. You need a good online network and a great pitch (and video). And a good dose of hustle, as well.
Pre-launch feedback thanks to third-party sites
With the growing difficulty for developers to get their apps in users’ hands, some “pre-launch” platforms have been created.
The goal for these websites is to generate some interest/following in coming soon apps, and let app developers get feedback on their ideas, designs and the market they’re getting into.
Feedback from other developers and people in the mobile industry
You obviously want feedback from your target audience.
But getting other developers’ opinions about your app is important too.
They’re building or have been building several apps, they try a lot of applications and know what they like and don’t like. They can share what worked for them and what didn’t, and what they think could work for you. They can point out flaws in your design, your pitch or your marketing strategy. They can help you discover a great blog that can help you get started or improve (like ours!).
Share your project with them, offline or online:
- Offline: go to conferences, developer and tech meetups
- Online: interact on Twitter, share what you’re working on (and help others!) on the iPhoneDevSDK forum or the TouchArchade Forums, discuss on Facebook groups for devs, get advices from experts on Clarity, etc.
Don’t spend ALL your time doing that, but do it. And remember, sometimes you have to give before you receive so don’t hesitate to help others and try to bring value. Thank the ones helping you, too.
Feedback from your target audience and influencers in your niche
If you’ve identified a specific niche for your app, you need to reach out to people that are likely to be interested in it.
If you’re building an app around something you’re passionate about (great idea), then you probably know the forums and other online places where people discuss about your hobby. If you’re new to that niche, start looking and interacting where your target audience is.
Don’t spam people with your app idea. Start building a “relationship” with them early on, then introduce what you’re working on (with your signature, with a post asking for feedback, etc.).
Identify influencers. Know who is really knowledgeable in your app niche, who wrote books or who has a strong following on your topic. Then reach out to them.
Same here, don’t make it spammy. Don’t ask them to talk about your app to everyone they know.
You need to have a humble approach and ask for feedback and ideas on how to improve your app. Don’t make your email too long, and be respectful of their time. Offer them to test an early version, etc.
Feedback from contests and awards
Submit your app to every contest or awards you can apply to.
Not only these are great opportunities to get more exposure (and downloads) and perfect your pitch, it’s also a good way to get expert’s thoughts (from the jury) about your app.
If it’s a “real-life” contest where you have to present your app in person, it’s an occasion for you to meet with other contestants and people in the industry and get their opinion.
If English is not your native language, localization is pretty much a no brainer.
You can start with releasing an app in a language almost no one in the world speaks (like…French), but eventually if you want your app to be a success you have to consider localizing it.
If your app is built in English first, then localization can make sense too.
If your app starts to get some traction in its native language markets, keep an eye on how it’s doing in other countries that speak a different language. Especially the ones with high growth (like China, Argentina, Russia, Israel, etc.).
Translating your app name and app store page in another language can bring you some more downloads in the targeted market. This might bring you some unhappy users too, that thought they’d be able to use your app in their language.
So that doesn’t happen, you need to translate the app itself as well (and the screenshots on your app store page).
Localization is more than translation, though.
You might need to go even further and truly localize your app so it fits the targeted market’s culture and be well understood by these users.
Mark Johnson, maker of Hit Tennis 3, listed a couple potential benefits you can get from localizing on his blog:
Tempting, right? So how do you go about it?
First option is doing it yourself and creating a strings file per language.
Second option, as often…Is paying someone to do it. Companies like iCanLocalize, Applingua, OneSky and others can do that for you, from $0.09/word to more.
Apple recommends a few things in terms of internationalization, you can check it out here.
Do App Store Optimization
Ok, so you can’t count on just your app store page and Apple to bring you downloads.
But does that mean that you shouldn’t do everything you can to give your app as much visibility as possible on the App Store itself? And make all you can to convert visitors into users?
App Store Optimization (ASO) is maybe a bit overrated, but there are things you need to do and choices you need to make to get the most downloads possible. Some of them are common sense, but it never hurts to check.
- Choose the right app name and keywords
- Create a beautiful icon, coherent with your app design
- Select your best, most explicit screenshots, and consider adding text captions to explain them
- Write a great app description (remember the copywriting advices?), that makes people (who read it) want to give your app a try
- Improve your app ratings (we talked about that toward the beginning)
You want to make sure you’re not forgetting any aspect of App Store Optimization? Check out our handy App Developer’s App Store Optimization Cheat Sheet.
Get Your App Reviewed
If you don’t have tons of money to invest in advertising, then your app success will depend a lot on the coverage you manage to get.
You need people to learn about your app. And a great way for that to happen is a blog post or an article on a well-known website.
It’s not easy though, as bloggers and journalists are highly solicited everyday, and don’t have time to try every single app. That means you need to pitch it right, and to the right persons.
A word on paid reviews
Some blogs will ask you for money in exchange for a blog post or to move you up the review queue.
If you decide to pay, makes sure its worth it and that it will actually bring you (loyal) users. Make sure that your targeted audience reads that blog. Because maybe your money would be better spent elsewhere.
Identify your press and blog contacts
Don’t loose your time and other people’s time: pitch your app to people that have a chance to be interested in it.
As much as possible, contact individuals and avoid mass emails. It takes more time, but increases your chances.
But don’t hesitate to target smaller blogs at the beginning, as well as non-US blogs. Guess what? There are tons of people with iPhones and iPads outside of the US. And it keeps on growing.
Try to find out about newspapers that could cover your app, too. Check out the most famous ones and find the journalists that write about mobile apps (tip: use the search field). When you contact “traditional” journalists, a press release is a good thing to have. Take a look at Muck Rack to know which journalist is talking about what and find some (US) contacts.
Check out who talked and talks (set up Google Alerts) about the type of app you’re launching. Contact them and ask them for feedback.
Find out if there are any specialized magazines in your app niche that could care about your app and that you could contact.
Knowing who to contact is the first step.
Bloggers and journalists receive tons of emails, but they can’t review everything. However, they are always looking for cool new apps and stories to talk about (it’s their job).
To do that, you need the right pitch.
Not only do you need the perfect sentence to explain what your app is all about and why their audience should care, you also need to make sure to include some key elements in your email:
- Your app name as it is on the App Store
- Who your audience is, what your app does and why its approach is unique
- Your app price
- A link to your product page (website) and to the App Store product page
- One or two of your best screenshots
- A short promo or demo video
- Contact info and Skype/Twitter IDs
Also, it doesn’t hurt to greet the person by her name, and to show that you do know what they’ve been writing about (or other things they’re doing).
When (if) they do answer you and are interested in trying your app, then send them some promo codes.
Check out our blog post on how to pitch your app and get it reviewed for some more information and an email template. And read the excellent book Pitch Perfect from Erica Sadun and Steven Sande. They are bloggers at TUAW, so you should probably read what they’re saying.
Don’t only sell the app, also sell the story
Some apps have some pretty cool stories behind them.
Take the example of the 1 Second Every Day app and its Kickstarter Campaign. It’s an app with a cool concept, but Cesar did more than just say “I’m building this”. He actually recorded 1 second every day for a year, and that’s the story he’s been selling (and why he got so much coverage).
If you have an interesting story behind your app, don’t hesitate to tell it. Write it down, and use it when you’re contacting bloggers and journalists.
More than just your app concept, an interesting blog post about your app story and your experience can give you some good visibility in the tech community when you submit it to Hacker News.
A website like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) sends directly to your inbox topics on which journalists and bloggers want to write. Check out if your story and experience are a good fit, and reach out to them!
Don’t turn down opportunities
If your app has some kind of success and people like it, there are chances you’ll be contacted by others.
As much as you can, send them the promo codes they are requesting, and accept to answer their questions and do interviews. You never know who will read or listen to it.
Marketing Your App With Video
Video is one of the most powerful ways to get your message across about your app. You might think we’re biased, but we’re definitely not the only ones saying it.
Done right, a demo video for your app can bring you several marketing benefits.
It can help you boost your app visibility, increase user engagement and retention, and get more (qualified) downloads. And that’s without mentioning branding and SEO benefits.
People are highly solicited nowadays, and they don’t have time to download each app they hear or read about. This is true for smartphone users and bloggers/journalists alike.
A demo video allows you to show in a very short time what your app is all about. It sounds cliché but it’s true: if a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what a video can achieve. Here are a few tips to produce an efficient demo video:
- Consider your audience. Keep your app target audience in mind at all times when creating your script and video.
- Write a script. This will save you tons of time and will allow you to make sure the message you convey is the right one. Just like for your website, don’t hesitate to get feedback on your script (before getting started on your video). If you can, try to bring him some emotion and story telling.
- Make it short (between 20 seconds and 1 minute). You might be tempted to show every feature of your app, but the truth is people won’t take the time to watch your 3mn video.
- Focus on the benefits and and added value of your app. Focus on what makes your app unique and worth downloading. Avoid boring and keep things dynamic.
- Make it efficient. Your goal is to show what your app is all about, but you also want people to remember it and be able to download it. Make sure you display your app name, icon and a call to action inviting viewers to download the app on the mobile app stores. Displaying your website address helps, too.
- Keep it simple. If you’re not a video expert, it’s safer to keep it simple so don’t use crazy cheap-looking effects or complicated scenario. A simple structure like intro -> core feature(s) -> outro is most likely enough.
Some mobile app stores (Google Play, Amazon) allow you to add a video to your app page. Hopefully that will come soon for the App Store as well.
You can (and should) also use your video on your app website, in your public relations efforts, when marketing on social media or even at events and tradeshows.
After actually trying your app, people watching your app video is the next best thing that can happen. Make the most out of it.
Do “Real-life” Marketing
To be honest, I haven’t had much experience with that.
I did try flyers and things of this kind, but with not much success. It doesn’t mean it won’t work for yours: some out of the box thinking might do wonders.
If you do try it, make sure you measure it (check out what we said above about marketing channels) so you know if it works or not.
Now like I said, you should go and meet other people at conferences, exhibitions and meetups. But at these events, getting feedback is more important than selling people on your app.
Exhibition booths can be worth it, if you know your target audience will be there.
Cross-Promote Your App
This is huge.
If you’re serious about building an app business, then you should create more than one app. If your target audience is similar in all these different apps, then you have a huge opportunity for cross-promotion.
This means that even a free app, with no revenue model whatsoever (doesn’t mean it hurts to have one), can be a great first step to a second and third apps that generate revenue.
You can cross-promote on your app website (or the app page on your app dev company website), on your blog, on your email list, within your apps, by sending push notifications, on social media, etc. As long as the message you’re sending is relevant to people receiving it.
If you’re just starting and you only have one app, you can reach out to other developers with apps targeting the same niche (but not direct competitors) and offer them to do a partnership. You can start really small (tweets, in-app messages, etc.), and see where that goes.
Kill It On Launch Day!
Launch Day for your app should be the peak of your “marketing crescendo” .
All we talked about leads to this. Except if you went for a soft launch (or released your app in another country first – like Canada – to test the waters), this is the time you have to make as much noise as possible.
That’s when you should get bloggers and journalists to write about your app (if they post a link to the App Store directly, then make sure your app is actually on there – it takes time for it to become available worldwide).
You need to let everyone that showed an interest, gave you feedback and helped you that your app is ready: email list, Facebook fans and friends, Twitter followers, forum buddies, readers of your blog, real-life friends and developers…Everyone!
With iOS 6 and its new App Store, categories are kind of hidden. So unfortunately, even if you’ve done a good job and get pretty high in your category charts it won’t give you as much visibility as it used to do.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to try to generate as much “buzz” as you can and generate as many downloads as possible.
Get your app in people’s hands, get great ratings and build momentum.
Improve Engagement With Push Notifications
Push notifications can be a great tool to send important info to your users and have them come back to your app: new content available that they care about, a special offer, some cross promotion, etc.
Your users don’t necessarily check out your app often, but if they still have it on their phone it probably means that they decided it brings enough value. And you shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to them.
Don’t abuse it, though, or they will soon consider you spam them and won’t want to hear about your app anymore.
You can build your own push notification service. Or you can use third party services like Urban Airship, PushWoosh, Parse or other alternatives. Some in-app analytics tools like Localytics or Mixpanel also let you do that, as does Appboy (mentioned earlier).
Take a look at their offers, and find the right fit for your app and budget.
Choose The Right Promotion Campaigns
Playing with your app price and making promotions is a good way to boost your app downloads and hopefully increase your revenue.
There are a couple things you can do by yourself so that people notice the price change of your app (and some robots pick it up), but the more effective way to boost downloads is by far using a third party who specializes in app download boosts.
This will rarely be free (although it can happen). And sometimes it will be (crazy) expensive.
But many of these app discovery apps have millions of users, and being featured (a push to their users) can give a great visibility boost to your app.
If your app has all we talked about here, then you might not only make it to the top charts (in some countries at least) but also stay in there for a while. Enough to build a solid user base you can build on.
A few services you might want to take a look at: Appgratis, Appsfire, Free App A Day, FreeMyApps, etc. More on this page.
Measure, Improve & Keep On Marketing
There’s plenty of things you have to do pre-launch, but marketing doesn’t stop a few days after your app is released.
You need to measure what works and keep doing it.
You need to improve your app so your users are both happy and engaged.
And you need to keep finding ways to get people talking about your app and sharing it.
Marketing your app can’t be an afterthought. It is not a one-time effort either.
- Building the right app and building it right, with your target audience and user experience in mind,
- Finding what makes users come back to your app, and what makes them share it,
- Listening to users and other developers’ feedback, learning how people use your app so you can improve it,
- Building an online presence, presenting your app in its best light,
- Engaging people and generating interest,
- Optimizing your app store page so as many people as possible can find you there,
- Reaching out the right way to people who can be interested in your app so they talk about it,
- Doing cross promotion with your other apps or other developers’ apps,
- Choosing the right promo campaigns to give your apps a boost when it needs it,
- Keeping on measuring to know what works and what doesn’t, improving your app and marketing it.
It’s really not easy.
But it can be rewarding, and you’ll learn plenty along the way.
All the best for your apps in 2013 and the years to come!
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Your turn now. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what works and what doesn’t in the comments. You got at least one good idea from those 8000+ words? Share the post!