So you wanna build an app. It’s a great app (you think) and one that everyone who sees it will want to try; everyone will love it when they do. That’s awesome. Just remember that your app will be the 542,522nd app submitted to the App Store and the 345,355th app submitted to
the Android Market Google Play.
I talk to developers every week that believe they have a great app, a fun game, or something that should be selling better that it does on the App Store. Some of them are not wrong. They may very well have a nice app that is under-indexing in the market place. Sometimes they even have a marketing person on-staff with marketing experience to try and help the app/game sell better. But are they focusing on the right things?
The #1 sales limiter for mobile apps and games is visibility. Since there’s basically only one channel on which to sell your product to each customer (apologies to GetJar) “visibility” often comes down to ranking on the corresponding App Store for your supported platform(s). If you don’t have a good plan for marketing your product, you’re basically tied to finding ways to get higher ranking on the App Store to get better visibility. This ties your hands a lot with respect to finding opportunities to succeed.
Apple is, fairly aggressively, closing off more and more ways that developers have been using to drive downloads and therefore rankings. Whether that’s cracking down on incentivized downloads, banning paid-for-reviews or modifying the rankings algorithms to take into account app usage vs just app downloads, the “easy” ways of moving up in the App Store rankings are dwindling.
Dispelling the myth of marketing
As visibility becomes more difficult, it becomes more and more important to have a good plan in place to market your mobile app. When I started in mobile, I was a developer: apps, games, whatever. I knew what made a good game or an interesting app. In my opinion, marketing was used to take my great idea and sell more of it, but stay out of my way when designing and developing the product. I was soooooo wrong. So wrong that I recently got in touch with a former VP of Marketing I worked with a few years ago and apologized for being so closed-minded and aggressively shutting him out of the design process for products I was managing.
There’s a giant myth out there that reviews scores are the most crucial to a videogame … but the truth is, marketing actually has much more of an influence to game sales than high scores. – Jesse Divnich of EEDAR at the MIGS
Today, building a mobile app that succeeds requires thinking about how you will market and sell the game from day one of the product design process. You need to build into the app ways to hook into marketing campaigns, social media outreach efforts, viral marketing and any systems that will help with App Store visibility, retention, and, of course, downloads.
It’s (unfortunately) a closed world out there in the mobile landscape. Years ago it was much more open and you had multiple avenues of getting your products in front of customers. Each carrier had a portal, websites sold mobile apps, and OEMs had opportunities for promoting products. Today it’s very difficult being tied to a single source for getting your product in front of customers, and the reality is that a good app can die on the App Store just as easily as a bad one.
If you’re a developer, now might be a really great time to watch the UNTETHER.tv podcast with Pretzil’s Kyle McInnes for 10 tips on how to sell more mobile apps.