So you’ve developed an app … now how do you market it?

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By Peter Hanschke

Welcome to the fourth post in my journey to build and launch an iPhone app. The last post tackled the intersection of product management, user experience and implementation – how they are separate but yet related. In this post I’m going to talk about the marketing of my iPhone app.

Let’s get one thing clear right off the top: Mobile app stores are NOT marketing vehicles. With the unbelievable number of apps in these stores there is no way you can make yourself heard. During the early days, using the app store as a marketing vehicle was possible, but now with tens of thousands of apps to choose from this is close to impossible.

Today these app stores serve two purposes:

1. They provide a vehicle for users to download and install your app, including all of your updates.

2. They provide a mechanism for taking money from those who download your app (if you have set a price) and put your portion into your bank account. For this service, they charge 30 per cent of the app price.

When iTunes first launched this was revolutionary. Because it was the only one to offer this service, it ended up building the infrastructure from scratch. Today setting something like this up is easier; there are many e-commerce components that can be put together with relative ease. But you have to ask yourself whether or not you want to do this for the one or two or three apps that you might write. Probably not. So, the app stores provide a convenient service for you and your potential buyers.

It takes more than an app store to monetize your app

I’ve talked to many people who believe that by simply posting their apps in the app store, they’ve done the marketing at the same time. Yes, you can add screenshots and lots of marketing text, but the odds that someone will find you over your competitor are small.

So what is a small app developer to do?

If you are serious about monetizing your app, you must remove your developer hat and put on your product marketing cap. That means that you have to do all the right marketing activities for your app – either by yourself or by engaging with someone who understands how to market a mobile app.

You have to understand your market and where your potential buyers hang out, which really means that you have to truly understand the persona of the person who will buy your app. Age, sex, personality and income are all potential demographics that could influence how you market your app. Is your app consumer-focused, business-focused, or both? If business-focused, what business size is it best suited for? If it’s consumer-focused, when would your app be used? Day time? Night time? While travelling? While on the couch at home?

You probably answered many of these questions before you began your first wireframe diagram, but it helps to articulate the answers again, this time from a marketing perspective.

For example, let’s say that your age target is 25- to 35-year-olds. From a development perspective you can assume that your target audience is very conversant with using mobile apps – scrolling through apps, typing with on-screen keyboards, familiar with commonly used symbols and so forth. Generally speaking, the layout and operation of your app would cater to a mobile-savvy demographic.

From a marketing perspective, this crowd is generally hip, cool and love hanging out on their mobile devices. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and newsfeeds are apps they live in. They need to feel connected. They need to share. So your marketing plan to this demographic would include social channels and your messaging would appeal to their savvy style. If your app is targeted at older age groups then your app and marketing plan would potentially be quite different.

Garner feedback with meaning

What is going to motivate a potential buyer to become a paid user? Understanding your three messages is key. Once you have your three messages, try them out. I’ve started talking to friends about my app to try out my messaging. In fact I’ve even shown friends how it works.

Looking for feedback is much more than asking if they like the app. Find out what they like about the messaging. Is there a certain aspect of the messaging that resonates with them? Here you really need to know how to convey the essence of your app. What makes your app unique over other similar apps? If all you can think of is that it is “better,” then you had better review your messaging vis-a-vis your target audience. Is your app about people or things? Facebook has succeeded because it connects people with long-lost friends. It’s not about the games. It’s not about the pictures. It’s about connecting with a friend that 10 years ago moved halfway across the country.

Influence the influencers

You have to know who the influencers are, i.e. those who your potential buyers follow. If people are interested in a subject, they will read or follow others with the same interest. It’s this herding mentality that we have engrained – this need to belong to a group of peers with common interests. Within each of these groups are leaders and followers. As a marketer of your app you need to know who the leaders are. You need to reach out to them and talk to them. Your goal is to have these leaders endorse your app. You want them to talk about your app to the groups they lead. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and start conversations with them, reply to their blog posts and tweets. In other words, get yourself known to these people.

Have a kick-ass website

All of your efforts to reach out to potential buyers may be wasted if you do not have a kick-ass website.

Since the buying process is handled by the app store, your website really only needs to be a single page, possibly two pages if you plan on blogging. Your three messages need to be front and centre. They need to be clear – avoiding buzz words that we as developers are fond of. The majority of your buyers do not care about the technology; they’re only interested in how well your app solves a problem they have.

Your website also has to convey the essence of your app. In a scant few words, explain what it is about your app that makes it unique or different from others. To repeat, just saying that it’s “better” means that you haven’t really found your app’s inner soul. Lately I’ve been receiving lots of emails from companies hawking their software and I am totally amazed at the number of buzzwords they use and the generic messaging they have in their scripts. It’s quite clear that they don’t know what their apps are all about. My reaction to these emails is to delete them.

So in summary, remember:

1. The app store is primarily an e-commerce and delivery mechanism.

2. Your website is your marketing/lead generation mechanism.

3. Your out-reach programs must drive potential buyers to your website.

We’re quickly approaching the end of this journey. Keep a sharp eye out for my next post. I’m going to talk about road testing my app and also reveal its name and functionality.

Image: Kinvey

Peter Hanschke is an Ottawa-based product management specialist.

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