5 Things you need to be doing to market your mobile application…now

So you’ve spent months building your mobile application and it is safely submitted to Apple’s AppStore, RIM’s AppWorld or Android’s Market Place. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the spoils and riches that will come pouring in as soon as it goes live.

Think again.

If you are one of the many (unbelievably) that think building the application is the hard part, that sales and marketing are not important or that the app stores themselves offer the best awareness-making for your app then this list is for you. I say this with certainty that marketing is more than 99% of the effort that goes into application development for mobile devices.

So here, without further delay, are the first 5 things you can do to help market your app — beyond just putting in the App Stores and hoping.

  1. Create a web site
    I know, old school but absolutely necessary. If you don’t have a site that clearly articulates the reason for someone to drop some cash or to instill confidence, people will be reluctant to buy your product. A few more hints: Always include a way for someone to get help/support for technical issues – and be RESPONSIVE. Always include a demo movie or tutorial on the site to show what it is like to maneuver within your product. Always have plenty of screen shots to showcase the product. Always include testimonials from actual users — if you don’t have any, use the App Store comments/feedback (as long as it is good) and NEVER just stream the feedback from the various stores to your website without vetting them first. Bad reviews don’t help and there are bound to be some. Some great examples are PumpOne’s Fitness Builder website and Zeebu Mobile’s BabyGo! site.

  2. Start listening to your potential customers
    Set up an RSS reader account (such as Google Reader) and search for key terms that describe your product, describe the pain of your customer or even your competitors product. Searches should be in Google, Google news, Google blog search and Twitter. Monitor this daily and start engaging with the conversations that are going on around you. You need to be a part of it through Facebook, Twitter and the blog world.

  3. Engage with the influencers
    I do think you need to submit your application to as many review sites as possible but that is an ongoing and never-ending process. While that continues, I would suggest you find the key 10 — those in the media, be they bloggers, video bloggers (hint), podcasts or print folk — and start engaging with them. If they cover the space your app targets and you follow them then you know they can have a big impact on awareness for your application.

  4. Market the story as well as the app
    Huh? The app is only half the story, the development process, the highs and lows, the places it was built and the obstacles overcome make up the rest. Here’s a perfect example. A company I interviewed for UNTETHER.tv, Glitchsoft, are launching a bartending time management game and the lead developer’s story is as interesting as the game. He works, hard. He found investment from one of Canada’s ONLY billionaires (Terry Matthews). He credits Starbucks, ViaRail and various hockey arenas as the place he wrote the most code and, for good measure, had a management change about 6 weeks before launch. What’s your story? Use it.

  5. Write to be found
    Opportunities abound to help your app be found and you should be using each and every one to their fullest. Write about the market your application targets — for your blog or someone else’s (preferably an influencer). Write your descriptions and keyword search terms for the application stores as though you were looking for your product, not as the developer. Create keyword-rich content for your website. Create a Twitter hashtag and use it on every tweet. The more ways to be found, the more terms that lead to your application, the higher the conversion.

These are just the basics and take time — I mean a lot of time — to get right but marketing is more important than the development of the product because this effort needs to sustained throughout the life of the product. Develop, deploy and develop the next product and relying on the marketing might of the stores rarely works — you have a greater chance of winning the lottery than being a featured AppStore app — so focus on building your brand at the same time as aiming for the panacea of mobile app awareness bliss.

About the author

Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to get things rolling.

  • Has the author of this article actually tested these methods for ROI? The only one that might be worth the effort is 3 and maybe 4 as part of your strategy to get 3 and not if it requires a lot of work.

    I’ve launched websites, I have written ‘story’ blog posts that made the front page of Hacker News, and Reddit/Android, blogs have picked up my apps. I’ve also tried banner ads. My apps do well (3000 to 4000 downloads a day) but none of these methods have made a significant change in the download rate when I tried them. The app itself and the position it gets in the app stores (by targeting the right market) makes by far the biggest difference.

    The truth is, when you sell a product for less than 5 bucks for unlimited use, the cost to get a new customer has to be crazily low. The visibility customers give you by pushing up your ranks in the app stores when they buy your app because they like it seems to be the most effective strategy for most apps. Remember, when customers buy your apps they are actually _paying you_ to up your ranks and promote you in the store. My advice is to concentrate on making your app awesome and tune its feature set to target the right market. You can spend a lot of money and resources to try to artificially push up your rankings and unless you ‘win the marketing lottery’ eg. your marketing material turns into an internet meme or goes viral, in my experience, you are wasting your resources.

  • Author here. Thanks for the comment and insights Benoit. I really appreciate you sharing.

    The article suggests ideas to market your application outside the app stores. You could build the best application and not be found so leaving it to chance inside the store by itself is not a good idea. Regardless of the price you charge, a customer needs to feel at ease and if your app is one of 100 or 1000 similar apps, you need to be able to differentiate, offer a way to get in touch, support and help overcome purchase obstacles and these suggestions are geared towards that.

    Do they work? Yup. Is it hard work? Yup. You need to take that into consideration when deciding what to price your product. If you can’t make it fly for $5, charge more. App developers are leaving a lot of money on the table pricing their apps based on the app store average vs the value the product brings to the customer.

    Being found, being available and being quick to respond is all a part of buying from someone.

  • You are right. When I wrote my previous comment, I was thinking of sub $5 apps since they are the most common (two of your three examples fall in that category). For apps that can justify charging significantly more or those that have recurring fees it’s a whole other story.

    Still when you say: “You could build the best application and not be found”. That is not true.

    I published most of my apps with basically zero marketing and they gravitated towards their equilibrium store ranks by themselves. I did send press releases but they were never picked up. Only after my apps climbed the chart by themselves were they noticed by blogs and review sites. I even had interviews on Radio-Canada talk shows twice to talk about them. As I said, when they got media attention, it did not make much of a difference in sales or ranking.

    The apps stores have algorithms that are designed to bring the best apps to the front. That is the most revolutionary aspect of the app stores economy. It’s good for the customers as it brings maximum value at very low prices by shrinking the cost of reaching huge audiences and making visibility depend more on the value in the product themselves than on marketing budgets. I don’t know if there is an an SEO equivalent in the app stores world (ASO?), but like in the web search world, when doing optimization you are working against the app stores designers who want their stores to show the best results to customers and not results manipulated by publishers. I know I haven’t find the way to exploit ASO in a profitable way.

  • This is such a contentious subject and we could be discussing this back and forth forever!

    I think there are two ways to look at the challenge of selling applications through the AppStore. The first is a sit and wait – put the app in the marketplace and hope. You may actually see success along the way, start generating revenue, let the algorithm do the work for you and leave your app’s fate in the hands of the math. The second is to do all that and put effort into marketing it so that when the algorithm says your app is no longer worthy of being highlighted you can still generate revenue long term.

    To be 100% reliant on the app store as the sole marketing mechanism for an app is leaving revenue out of your pocket.

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