An area where the majority of developers fail is either not marketing their app or believing that marketing doesn’t begin until an app is approved for the App Store. In many ways, the reality is that getting your app approved by Apple should be a climax of your marketing efforts. To be more than just another developer on the App Store, you’re going to need to embrace the idea that marketing evolves along with the development of your app.
In this chapter, you’ll explore:
The five phases of your marketing crescendo
Developing your app communication channels (Phases 1–3)
How to find and successfully engage bloggers and press outlets (Phase 4)
Launching your app once it is approved (Phase 5)
Hopefully, you’ve been paying attention and you arrived here from Chapter 1 or Chapter 3 and not from the preceding chapter. I placed this topic near the end of the book because your marketing-related activities will hit one of their first peaks when your app finally launches—but this will occur only if you began your marketing efforts at the outset of your development process.
“Process” is a critical concept, and it’s fair to apply it also to how you will approach marketing. This implies that marketing is not about one or two magical actions that will somehow shoot your app to the top of the App Store charts. Instead, it’s an ongoing investment that parallels development; like the building of your app, marketing incorporates your customers.
Although I may be overgeneralizing, my instinct is that most of you don’t have access to a massive marketing engine that you’ll engage when your app is launched. Even if you do, trusting that engine to simply “will” your app to succeed is naïve and foolish. As first mentioned in Chapter 2, few companies can build products (not just apps) without the involvement of customers and not face negative consequences. The risk of an app failing is already high for developers who do not incorporate customers into the development process. That risk can be increased, however, by not including customers and then pursuing a huge marketing blitz once an app is approved.
The App Store contains examples of highly polished apps that were created by talented and hard-working developers but that ultimately floundered. The reasons were simple: the developers didn’t validate their ideas with their customers and they proceeded with significant marketing launches. By not engaging customers early in the process and then relying on their brands and high-profile contacts to be successful, they ultimately wasted a significant amount of time and money.
If you are working within a larger organization that has a marketing department, I still encourage you to review this material. You should share the ideas in this chapter with your colleagues and work with them to keep your app’s development and marketing in sync.
Obviously, attention for your app is a good thing. In fact, your goal will be to see a flurry of excitement when your app is finally approved. The difference is that the core of the excitement for your app should always be generated by customers. Even if your app is reviewed by bloggers and more traditional media outlets, the buzz from those sites will eventually decrease and more likely become nonexistent. Customers who are excited, engaged, and passionate about your app—because of their influence in the development of it—will be the ones who continue to help promote you well after the media is done with their “scoops.”
There’s no shortage of people claiming new and “better” ways of marketing. A handful of fads over the past decade, in no particular order, include social media marketing, word-of-mouth marketing, integrated marketing communications (say that three times fast!), search engine marketing, guerrilla marketing, marketing as storytelling, and email marketing. I’ll assume for the moment that those who promote these ideas actually believe in them and are not simply trying to profit off the marketing flavor of the month.
Operating under that assumption, what’s evident is that practitioners continue to look for new methods of marketing because at some point marketing begins to lose its effectiveness. Consider, for example, the amount of money that has moved from print newspapers, radio, and television to online media such as search engine marketing. I won’t provide you with the specific numbers, but as an example, think about all the stories you’ve heard about newspapers that have shut down, moved online, or cut back to weekly publishing schedules in the past two or three years.
The point is that in this 24/7, always-on world, consumers are more rapidly adapting to—and consequently ignoring—new and existing marketing innovations. Put simply, consumers don’t want to be “marketed to” (do you?). They don’t have the time or energy to be bothered with marketing...especially uninteresting, boring, or annoying marketing.
Now that you have that context, I’m not going to join in the marketing soup and outline a new theory or philosophy of marketing for you. I’m not even going to suggest that marketing your app is exceptionally different from marketing other types of new products. Instead, I’m going to focus on an extremely tactical marketing process that is proven in the App Store and beyond. As usual, it starts and ends with focusing on your customers.
This chapter is unique in that I reference it throughout the book. Depending on where you are in the development process, you will continue to revisit this chapter based on my guidance and undertake marketing efforts at the same time your app is being built.
I really want to encourage you not to think about development and marketing tasks as being distinct. Building an app that is driven by customer input will make marketing your app much easier. Conversely, marketing your app—the way it’s laid out in this chapter—will give you insight into how to make your app better.
Throughout the book, I specifically direct you to individual phases of the marketing process outlined in this chapter. Still, I recommend that you peruse the remainder of the chapter to be completely familiar with all the elements involved in this process.
It’s time for you to get musical. OK, not really. But I want you to grab on to the idea that your marketing efforts should be a crescendo. “Crescendo” is a term used in music that indicates a gradual increase in sound and intensity; the music starts soft and then slowly but surely gets significantly louder. The approach you follow for your marketing will be similar. You don’t want to start your marketing with a big bang (or people will run away!); rather, you want it to peak in conjunction with your app’s progress toward the App Store. Your initial marketing climax should occur when your app finally gets launched into the App Store.
Depending on your goals and the type of app you’ve built, that initial push may be all you need to achieve your goals. This is especially true if you are building timely or seasonal apps (e.g., a holiday-related app), or if you’re pursuing simpler or gimmicky apps. These types of apps have shorter life spans and it’s much more important to capitalize on all the buzz possible when the app is first launched. If you’re building a more complex app or an app that has long-term value, the initial attention garnered by the launch of your app into the App Store is just the start of the journey. This case, in particular, requires a higher dependence on customers’ goodwill post-App Store launch. Customers, and not bloggers or the press, will act as the gatekeepers for whether your app will be sustainable over the long haul.
In the following subsections, I outline the five phases of the marketing process, which correlate to ongoing development tasks. The final two phases are focused on readying for the actual launch of your app. All are referenced from their respective chapters as “marketing checkups.”
In Phase 1, you’ll further explore using Twitter. Twitter will serve to keep a real-time channel of communication open with the customers you’ve already interacted with, as well as help you discover new people who could be interested in your app.
You should have visited this section once before, when you were done reading the section Surveys and the “social” web in Chapter 3. You might want to quickly review that section if it’s been a while since you read it.
Phase 1 will also ask you to begin tracking what’s happening in the iOS development community. You’ll develop a reading list of influential thought leaders and start following them on Twitter, while also forming peer relationships through Twitter and elsewhere.
Marketing your app begins when you first start talking with your customers. One of the channels identified in Chapter 3 that provided your first customers to talk with was Twitter. The Twitter demographic is ideal because it represents a more cutting-edge, early-adopter crowd. As you will shortly see, the value of Twitter extends beyond solely finding customers.
Twitter will be a primary way to engage meaningfully with your customers and keep them informed about what’s happening with your app. Even outside the App Store ecosystem, Twitter has become a popular means to answer customer questions, make announcements, and offer special Twitter-only deals (e.g., http://twitter.com/VirginAmerica).
Some amount of etiquette is involved in being successful on Twitter. I can summarize much of that for you with some simple advice from Laura Fitton, an author of Twitter for Dummies and founder of the Twitter app directory oneforty (http://oneforty.com): “Be useful.” Don’t make Twitter about yourself or your app. Make it about others. Make it about solving your customers’ problems, linking to great resources, and sharing practical advice. Being useful will increase the likelihood of people following you on Twitter, which in turn expands your audience and reach.
On that note, you will need to determine the presence you will have on Twitter. Some developers use their personal identities to represent their apps, while others create separate accounts specifically for the app. If you are new to Twitter, I recommend just starting with one account because maintaining that alone will entail some amount of learning. If you go with two accounts, consider whether you will launch more apps in the future. In that case, it’s better to make the Twitter username of the “app account” related to your iOS developer name.
Indie developer and college student Jeremy Olson, who created the app Grades, has his own personal Twitter account (http://twitter.com/jerols/) and one for his app (http://twitter.com/gradesapp). When discussing Grades on his personal account, he mainly uses it to interact with those in the iOS development community. The Grades account, which was created closer to the launch of Grades, is all about news related to Grades, including what other people are saying about it. Visit each account to better understand how they are used. In Jeremy’s interview at the end of this chapter, he shares some insights about Twitter, as well as marketing and launching an app.
Twitter can seem overwhelming if you haven’t used it before. One way to deal with those challenges is to find a Twitter client. The benefit of Twitter clients is that they streamline access to Twitter functions such as following a new account, mentioning (also known as “replying to”) an account, searching, and composing new tweets. oneforty, the Twitter directory mentioned earlier, has an extensive listing of Twitter clients at http://oneforty.com/category/Clients, but I’m also going to share my own preferences.
For my personal account (http://twitter.com/kenyarmosh), I use the app Echofon (http://echofon.com/) because it syncs my timeline (all of the tweets from the people I follow) across all devices (e.g., Mac, iPhone, and iPad). Like Jeremy and others, I use my personal account to interact with peers and track technology news.
Before my interests in Tweeb were acquired, I also maintained an account for it (http://twitter.com/tweebapp). To manage the app account, I used a column-based client called TweetDeck (http://tweetdeck.com/). Column-based clients—including TweetDeck, HootSuite, and Seesmic—let you view much more information at once, allowing you to see what your customers are talking about while also keeping an eye on competitors and potential new customers (see Figure 8-1).
Whether you are using Twitter.com or a Twitter client, you should follow the customers you previously found on Twitter (see Chapter 3). If you decided to have an app-specific account, use that account to follow them. Don’t feel bad or stop following them if they don’t follow you back. Feel free to reply to them from this account if you have something relevant to contribute.
Twitter can also be used to track iPhone-related news and interact with peers. By following influencers in the iPhone and mobile community (see Figure 8-2), you’ll begin seeing tweets in your timeline that will provide helpful information to build your app and better understand the psyche of the iPhone community. You can usually—but not always—identify influencers by the number of followers they have. You can also check out their bios and timelines to see if their tweets contain information you find useful.
Beyond using Twitter search to find these types of people (e.g., searching for “iOS 4” and then perusing the accounts for the results returned), two tools I mentioned in Chapter 3 are again useful here: WeFollow and Twiangulate. For example, compare my account with Jeremy’s on Twiangulate (http://twiangulate.com/search/kenyarmosh-jerols/common_friends/table/my_friends-1/) and you’ll see the people in common that we each follow. Once you’ve found a couple of key influencers, plug them into Twiangulate and your job should become much easier.
You can find peers in pretty much the same way. Peers may not have very large follower counts. If you still consider their tweets interesting, follow them anyway. There’s a higher likelihood that peers are going to interact with you on Twitter, so don’t just try to cozy up to the “big dogs.” You’ll most likely want to add influencers and peers to your personal Twitter account (i.e., your nonapp account), to make those interactions less formal.
You can save Twitter keyword searches to your account, which allows you to more easily reference them. You can easily import a saved keyword search into a tool such as TweetDeck as a column (you can also create a search column directly in TweetDeck). You’ll then have a column dedicated to keywords that are relevant to your app.
For example, in the Tweeb account (@tweebapp), I had a search column for “tweeb” and “Twitter stats” (see Figure 8-1). These keyword searches are related to the features that customers of Tweeb considered important. With this setup, instead of prospecting for customers, they were pushed to me straight from Twitter. I then had the option of either interacting with these prospects right away or continuing to monitor them.
Although you will use Twitter to find new prospects and even track competitors, you should to be smart about how you do this. This is where Twitter’s list feature, and specifically, a “private” list, will be applied.
The idea behind a list is essentially to group a number of Twitter accounts together. When you view this list, you will see all the tweets from those accounts. Again, a nice feature of a tool such as TweetDeck is that you can have an entire column dedicated to a list. By default, a list you create is public and others can see when their accounts are added to it. By marking it as private, that won’t be the case. I recommend creating private lists consisting of your competitors and your competitors’ most vocal customers. You can discover that latter group by seeing who your customers are mentioning in their tweets, as well as searching for mentions of your competitor (search the “@username” on Twitter or as a search column in your tool).
I also typically create lists to track the biggest advocates of my apps or client apps. Earlier in the process, such as where you are now, I use lists to add people that I’ll want to engage later based on what they are tweeting about. So, if you are tracking a particular keyword and an account keeps surfacing, you might want to add that person to a list. Like with competitor lists, I usually keep these lists private. For a somewhat more progressive and public use of lists, check out Jeremy’s account (@jerols).
Link sharing is very common on Twitter, so with the peer and influencer accounts you are following, you’ll receive pointers to lots of technology and iPhone articles. As you continue to visit those links, start either bookmarking the sites you find most informative or adding them to a feed reader such as Google Reader (http://www.google.com/reader). You can also visit sites such as Hacker News (http://news.ycombinator.com/news), Techmeme (http://www.techmeme.com), and Digg.com (http://digg.com/technology) to find the most popular community-driven tech articles of the day and subsequently discover new sites of interest. Spend 10 to 15 minutes a day tracking trends and digesting this information, whether from articles shared on Twitter or from your own favorite sources.
I’ve purposefully not given you Twitter accounts to follow or blogs to read in this section because I want you to find these people and sources yourself. Explore Twitter and the Web extensively and aggressively. Ultimately, you’ll develop more natural relationships and learn much more by identifying these people and sources yourself.
Developing a reading list will show you who is important in the iPhone community. It will also identify the types of sites that might want to write about your app when it launches. Getting a sense of these outlets now will prepare you to pitch the most appropriate sites when the time comes.
Phase 1 doesn’t really “end.” You’ll continue to rely on Twitter to engage with your early customer community and peers, as well as keep tracking industry developments through your reading. What I’ve outlined in this section represents a baseline and starting point for you. Over time, you’ll develop your own strategies and the best ways to leverage these resources for you and your app.
In Phase 2, you’ll open another channel to communicate with customers and begin further enticing them with the vision behind your app. At this phase in the process, you still won’t have a working app and will likely only have some branding and logo assets at your disposal. Despite these limitations, Phase 2 will help you lay the foundation for your email marketing efforts and web presence.
You should have visited this section once before, when you were done reading the Translating wireframes to screens section in Chapter 5. You might want to quickly review that section if it’s been a while since you read it.
With my focus on Twitter, email marketing may feel a little dated. But it still represents one of the best ways to broadcast information very quickly to a large and diverse audience. This last part is important, because although Twitter is becoming prevalent, it still is used more heavily by early adopters than it is by the general public. Comparatively, most people online today have an email address, meaning that email marketing will be useful to a larger number of customers or at least a different type of customer.
Recall that early in your app’s existence, interacting with “earlyvangelist” customers (see the Traits of the right customer section in Chapter 3) is preferable. These customers will endure the early hiccups of your app and stick with you because they’ll believe your app is going to solve their problems better than anything else. These types of customers will get you only so far, though. Although they’ll likely be your first paying customers, reaching normals will also be important. These are the people who are potentially outside the reaches of Twitter, the blogosphere, and the tech community you’ve immersed yourself in up to now. If your customer discovery process produced many referrals for you, it’s possible that these types of people consist more highly of normals than earlyvangelists. The point here is that email marketing will provide a more universal means to communicate with all types of customers.
You don’t necessarily have to use an email marketing tool, but such a tool provides a number of advantages over email itself. Aside from basics, such as ensuring that your emails will get past spam filtering and helping manage your email list, one of the greatest advantages of email marketing tools is reporting. When sending an email, you’ll be able to see the delivery and open rates (how often people actually open the email) of the email, monitor unsubscribes (i.e., when people decide they no longer want to be on your email list), and later, even track clicks to your website. This data will inform you of the effectiveness of your outreach and what ideas and concepts are or are not resonating with your customers.
At a more fundamental level, however, your goal at this point will be to capture email addresses as you did with surveys. Most tools will provide you with a form to embed on your website (see Figure 8-3). This form will collect an email address from a visitor and allow you to later use it when you are ready to starting send email newsletters. Popular email marketing tools include MailChimp (http://www.mailchimp.com/), Campaign Monitor (http://www.campaignmonitor.com/), and Constant Contact (http://www.constantcontact.com/).
To place a form for visitors to fill out on a website or web page, you’ll need to have a website or web page. At this point, however, this page really won’t include much more than a basic graphic, some language that describes your app, and a form to capture emails.
These types of pages are often called splash pages or landing pages and their aim is to cast your app’s vision and pique interest early in the development process (recall that a splash screen is the first screen in your app). They can also be used to test ideas about an app. For example, you might want to get a sense of what features are intriguing customers the most or even inquire about price points on the splash page through a poll. Overall, though, you’ll want to focus the main action on capturing email addresses.
If you don’t have any web experience, someone on your team likely does. You can also look for web designers in the same sorts of places you may have looked for designers to build your app (see Chapter 4). If you are more of a self-starter, you might want to try tools such as Unbounce (http://unbounce.com/), which provides visual editors to quickly build and publish splash or landing pages; in other words, you won’t have to know HTML to use Unbounce. You can also take advantage of such tools’ email capture functionality, which will allow you to easily access captured email addresses and import them into your email marketing platform. The splash page shown in Figure 8-4 is for Instagram, a life-sharing app for the iPhone. I’ll show you my first splash page for Tweeb shortly.
It’s best to publish your splash page on the same domain on which your website will exist. Doing this will help you in a number of ways, including getting your domain indexed earlier by search engines and keeping customers familiar with the website for your app. This approach will provide a good foundation for your eventual website.
You’re still not looking to draw the attention of the world to your app, but bringing some visibility to your splash page is going to be beneficial to you. First, you want to grow your list of email addresses. Second, you may want to infuse new perspectives into the development of your app. The email addresses you receive will likely include more normals, and you may want to contact them about what compelled them to learn more about your app.
The first way to bring attention to your splash page is to tweet the link to your followers on Twitter. Even if you have the email addresses of some of these people, unless you specifically received permission to keep them informed about your app, you should not automatically add them to your email list. After you tweet the link, those who visit your splash page will decide if they also want to sign up to receive emails about your app or continue to remain updated through Twitter.
At the time of this writing, Twitter had just begun to explore its advertising model through what it calls “Promoted Tweets.” Initially, this will allow advertisers to show up on the top of the search results page by buying related keywords. Watch Twitter in this space, as it could become another valuable advertising channel.
Chapter 3 also reviewed paid advertising through Google AdWords or Facebook. Both choices offer cost-effective ways to bring targeted traffic to your splash page. Depending on your app’s focus, even a budget of $5 to $15 a day could help you get some traction for your splash page.
When you first begin Phase 3 of your marketing crescendo, you’ll be in the midst of building your working app. At this point, you should have actual assets of your app, including screens for it. You’ll use these assets to spur new interest, and will use them along with an eventually more complete version of your app to recruit beta testers (as discussed in Chapter 6).
You should have visited this section once before, when you were done reading the Screens and Prototypes section in Chapter 5. You might want to quickly review that section if it’s been a while since you read it.
The idea of teasers is not new. It happens often in the media, and most times it’s done to help build frenzy about what is to come. The key about teasers is to keep people wanting more. You want to get them interested and excited, but not satisfied. They need to be kept curious, or you’ll displace all of the anticipation that you are trying to create.
Since people are visual beings, when it comes to adapting teasers in the app world, text alone won’t be particularly exhilarating. Instead, you’ll want to focus on sharing pieces of the most finished designs of your app. In fact, keeping what you distribute almost entirely visual and not describing what it actually is will promote even more curiosity.
Mike Rundle (http://flyosity.com), a designer/developer and creator of the app Digital Post, did exactly that when he gave his followers a “sneak peek” (see Figure 8-7) of the iPad version of his app leading up to the launch of the iPad and the iPad App Store. As you can see, it was a simple yet captivating image, and he didn’t provide many more details about it at that point.
Twitter is a great place to share sneak peek designs from your in-progress app, but you’ll want to start leveraging those assets in other places too. Up to now, you’ve only created a splash page for your app, and it’s time to start expanding your web presence.
Blogs are another way to interact with existing and new customers. Obviously, whereas a sneak peek is focused on design, a blog is more about written content. The benefit of content is that search engines rely on it to index your site. So, when someone searches on a related keyword, aside from other important factors such as having your site linked to, your site absolutely cannot be shown as a search result (see Figure 8-8) if you don’t have any quality content on your site.
There’s no better way to start blogging than to start blogging. You’ll pick up good tips along the way, but it’s more important to get content published onto your blog than it is for you to know every blogging tip and trick in existence. If you have an existing blog or website and your app is going to have a separate page (or pages) on your site, you can use that blog to start discussing your app. Otherwise, consider using tools such as WordPress, Posterous, or Tumblr to get your blog started. If you want your blog to more seamlessly integrate with your splash page and website (which I recommend), take advantage of the custom domain options offered by some of these tools (e.g., http://blog.<yourappdomain>.com), have your blog reflect a design similar to that of your splash page, and possibly even use the self-hosted version of a tool such as WordPress (i.e., use http://wordpress.org instead of http://wordpress.com). A great first post on your blog can include some basic background about what your app will be about, incorporating the designs you just shared.
Don’t proceed with the next section until your app is ready to be distributed to your customers for testing, which will occur by the time you get to Chapter 6. You’ll be guided back here once that is the case.
As with all customer interactions, recruiting those to beta-test your application is definitely a marketing activity. Beta testing will be the first time customers actually experience your application. You’ll want to set the tone for the purpose of beta testing and guide them in how they can be most helpful.
By now, you should have a minimum of three channels to recruit beta testers: Twitter, your email newsletter list, and your blog. You should use all three sources to recruit beta testers. To reach those on Twitter, the best approach is to create a post on your blog and then link to it from a tweet. Your post should include the objective of your beta testing (e.g., testing a specific feature), the OS and device requirements (e.g., iPhone 3GS running iOS 4), some background on providing their UDID (see the section UDID and Figure 6-1 in UDID), how they should sign up (e.g., sending an email or filling out a form; see Figure 8-9), and how public you want this part of the beta testing to be.
Depending on how far along you are in the development of your app, you may want to request that your beta testers not extensively discuss your app online. For example, you could ask that they not post screenshots of the app or write blog posts about it. Don’t be overbearing, but definitely articulate what makes you most comfortable. You can become more flexible about what they share online the closer your app is to being submitted and approved into the App Store.
With the design assets from your sneak peeks and the written content from your blog completed, you should begin sending out updates regularly to your email newsletter list. Always try to repurpose content you create elsewhere. What you include in the email newsletter should derive from what you post on Twitter and your blog.
Although there may be some overlap among those who get your emails and follow your blog and Twitter account, recall that email is in many ways reaching a different audience. You can also make your emails act as summaries of what’s happening elsewhere, with links back to blog posts, Twitter, or your website.
Don’t use your email list to recruit your earliest beta testers. Again, although I’m generalizing, think about your email list customers as being slightly less tech savvy, with less patience for an app that’s still not ready for prime time. As you near completion of the App Store version of your app and want some fresh perspectives, definitely consider including a request for beta testers through your email newsletter list; just don’t make this the primary motivation for the email.
In Phase 4, you’ll begin to transition to a “launch” mindset. Most of the development efforts for your app should be wrapping up and you either will have submitted or will be in the process of submitting your app to Apple for approval. Compared to other phases, the timing and execution of Phase 4 and Phase 5 marketing activities are much more critical. Be diligent with them so that you can maximize the buzz you generate around your app when it is approved.
You should have visited this section once before, when you were done reading the section Your App Store App “Binary” in Chapter 7. You might want to quickly review that section if it’s been a while since you read it.
Write the launch content for when your app is approved. Starting with this content now—even though it’s not needed yet—will put you in a launch mindset. It will also make it easier to focus on other critical tasks once your app is approved.
Your launch content includes your more significant blog post announcement and email newsletter, as well as the content for your website. Discuss what makes your app interesting, what features you are planning to add going forward, and how you are planning to incorporate customer feedback (e.g., point to your Twitter account and other designated feedback or support channels). I’ll detail what you need for your website and what web content you need now.
The website for your app has already evolved from being a splash page with an email sign-up form to include a blog. You are now going to prepare the remainder of your website assets, which will be used in both Phase 4 and Phase 5 of your marketing crescendo, as well as post-launch. As with your app, splash page, and blog, you might not be doing the design of the website yourself, but this information will help you guide its development.
Designing an app website has some unique elements to it. As with your app, it has to embody Apple-like design and attention to detail. The best app sites are also extensions of an app, almost giving a sense of being in the app itself. I’m including a couple of examples of well-designed app websites in Figure 8-10 and Figure 8-11 and will subsequently review the common elements of them; refer back to these examples as needed.
Because you won’t be unveiling your entire website at once, the most important aspect for you to address right now is its structure. You should build your site in such a way that it will be easy to roll out its new sections and features through Phase 4, Phase 5, and beyond. In fact, the smartest way to approach building your pre- and post-launch website is to build the post-launch website first and then remove elements from it until your app is approved into the App Store.
For example, in Figure 8-11, you can see an area of the page that’s dedicated to press quotes. You won’t have any quotes when your app website is in pre-launch mode. Similarly, you may not want to have any screenshots of your app available until after your app is approved.
To simplify thinking about the different stages of your website’s existence, consider this progression:
Splash page plus blog
You’ve already implemented the first two stages. I’ll cover the remaining elements of the last two stages of your app website in the order in which they’ll be needed.
App websites typically have an actual or close approximate of a device (i.e., iPhone or iPad) in a prominent place on the page. Later, the screen of the device will come to house your app in action (e.g., a video). In the early stages, however, it could just include the splash screen for your app or even a logo.
The device image is one of the first elements you’ll want on the page because it immediately communicates that your website is about an app. It’s possible your splash page already had a device image; if not, include one on your pre-launch website.
Include some crafty verbiage about your upcoming app that teases out its concept. For example, Tweeb’s teaser text read, “Introducing a new way to track your Twitter account. Exclusively for the iPhone.” You should provide some language that it’s “coming soon.” This text might represent the bulk of the content that you include on the pre-launch website. Consider replacing or adding text underneath it later with more background and description about your app.
Link to your blog, Twitter, and other social media presences from your pre-launch site. I haven’t covered Facebook in detail, but that is another outlet you may want to consider using (learn about Facebook Pages at http://www.facebook.com/advertising/?pages). Usually, these are placed in the header or footer (top or bottom) of the page. Make them easier to discover by using icons to represent the links.
Your email sign-up form should still also be present on your pre-launch website. Compared to your splash page, it should not be as highly promoted (see Figure 8-12).
Make it easy for people to learn more about you or to get in touch. You can create separate “about” and “contact” pages to include this information, or for now, incorporate it on the same page. If your app or apps gain more prominence over time, you will likely want separate pages detailing this information. For example, your contact page might distinguish between questions about how your app works and feature requests.
Don’t forget to include web analytics on your site so that you can understand traffic sources and how people are using the site. Install a solution such as Google Analytics (http://www.google.com/analytics), which is free, easy to use, and powerful.
To reiterate, you won’t be flipping the switch on your post-launch website until after your app is approved. Building the pre- and post-launch websites at the same time will streamline this process, though. As mentioned earlier, you should think about the pre-launch website as the skeleton of the post-launch website, meaning that it contains all aspects of the final site minus the more thorough post-launch details.
Once your app is approved, your post-launch website should make your app feel “alive” by inserting more than just a static splash screen into the device image. The two most common ways to do that are either to cycle through the images in a slideshow fashion inside the device or to integrate a video. Keep the video short and with either concise dialogue or no narration and some catchy, upbeat music. Consider using a tool such as SimFinger to make it even better (http://github.com/atebits/SimFinger).
This may be confusing to you, but it won’t be to a web designer. Creating a video takes a little more effort, but it can be of tremendous value when you begin pitching your app.
At this point, you should know the most compelling features of your app and have your launch content and preliminary or final application description (for the App Store) at your disposal. Use these assets to include more details about your app on the website. Start with some brief narrative content, but err on the side of bulleting the key features of the app. You can usually place this type of content under your teaser text. It’s also good to include the operating system and device requirements of your app at the bottom of this area.
If you consider your price a key part of your strategy, or if your app is priced competitively, you might want to include a price tag on the page. You can always change this later. Regarding this point, since you will be looking for the optimal price of your app and may be adjusting your price often, be mindful that you’ll want to update this element.
If you’ve viewed any number of app websites, you’ve probably seen Apple’s Available on the App Store buttons. Include one of those buttons, edited to match the color scheme of your app and the website, for branding purposes. In all likelihood, Apple’s App Store will be better-known than your app when it first launches. Position this button close to where your app is located. Some developers also opt for a Buy Now button instead (see Figure 8-13).
Under your device image, place thumbnail images that, when clicked, expand to show an entire screen of your app. Although visitors to your site might view the image slideshow or video, they may want to explore these screens more thoroughly and at their own leisure.
Designate an area for quotes from bloggers, the press, and customers. This last group is important, because even if your app is not initially reviewed by those in the media, it’s possible that you’ll receive App Store reviews or write-ups on customer blogs. Consider including two or three quotes and use well-known names and brands if you have them.
Highlight the latest update (e.g., v1.0.1) and the release date (e.g., 10/30/10) of your app and any critical fixes or key new features added. Not only is this useful information, but it will also show visitors that you are maintaining the app.
Creating a page that is completely dedicated to frequently asked questions about your app will help you and your customers. You can initially launch this page with the questions customers asked you during beta testing or with questions you think will be common. Whether you have a FAQ page or not, be sure to highlight the best way for customers to get in touch with you about problems they are having with your app (this information could also be placed on the contact page). That might include a dedicated support email address, your app’s Twitter account, a support tool you implemented in Chapter 5, or all three.
Remember that within your apps, you will have only a limited amount of space dedicated to helping customers with questions and engaging them more extensively. Take full advantage of Twitter, email, your blog, and your website to supplement this limitation.
Your media outreach is going to be the most time-sensitive part of getting your marketing crescendo to work. I can tell you from personal experience that beginning to do outreach too early, as well as too late, can very negatively impact your marketing plans. So, like Goldilocks, you’ve got to make your timing be “just right.”
The purpose of media outreach is to find websites that could be interested in doing a review about you or your app. I include “you” because with the number of apps being pitched for review every day, having some interesting backstory about the app can help differentiate you from others. For example, in the earliest days of the App Store, the media loved Steve Demeter, creator of the highly successful game Trism, not only because of the game’s sales numbers ($250,000 in two months) but also because he initially worked on the game at night while maintaining his day job. Backstories are a little more important for larger or more traditional media outlets such as newspapers, so don’t overplay them. Here are some details of whom to pitch, how to pitch, and when to pitch:
With your Twitter community humming and the reading list you developed in the early marketing phases, you should have a pretty good handle on the types of outlets and people you’ll want to pitch. Realize, however, that most people are probably pitching the same blogs and sites you are. That doesn’t mean you should forgo those sites; instead, broaden your horizons to people, blogs, and sites outside the most typical ones. These may include smaller blogs that your peers or even customers have.
One way to find media outlets outside of those you are currently familiar with is to use search engines to identify those writing about features related to your app. More specifically, sites such as Google News are article-based and will return stories and blog posts rather than more generalized results. When you find a relevant article, look at the person who wrote it and track down an email address. If it’s not listed there, you can also Google the person’s name. Make sure you bookmark what this person wrote; I’ll come back to how that’s useful in a moment.
A good way to think about whom to pitch is to break down your list of outlets in two ways. The first is by likelihood of receiving a review (e.g., unlikely, probable, or definite). If you see that all of your sites are part of the “unlikely” category, you need to diversify. The second way to group your list is by reviewer type. You should not focus only on sites that review apps, but also on ones that are interested in what your app is about. For example, with Tweeb, my nonapp pitches were to people and sites who wrote about social media, Twitter, and analytics. That landed me three reviews on very reputable sites (SocialTimes, ReadWriteWeb, and Twitterrati), which are not extremely app-focused.
For your pitches, you are going to reuse many of the assets developed for your pre- and post-launch websites. This includes your teaser text, a brief description about features, screenshots, and a video, if you have one. If you are still sending pitches after your app is approved and in the store—which you should do—also include your iTunes URL and a promo code (promo codes and a useful promo code trick are discussed in Launching Your App (Phase 5)). If your app is not approved yet, which is the more likely scenario at this point, having a video will be particularly useful.
As with other types of outreach, I prefer to use templates for pitches. To be more effective, however, you will customize the first part of your template based on whom you are pitching. So, for example, use some context from an article or post someone wrote; that’s where the bookmark to the person’s writing comes into play.
Here’s an email template I used while pitching Tweeb. It received a 60% success rate during my initial outreach. The customized part of the template is in bold italics, and although it’s true, you can see it was fairly generic.
Been reading your stuff for many years now. I wanted to drop you a note about my latest iPhone app “Tweeb.” It’s focused exclusively on Twitter stats and includes click data from bit.ly/j.mp links shared in tweets.
Would love for you to check it out. Feel free to drop me a line with any feedback.
The template is short and sweet. You may want to add attachments such as your screenshots or a link to your video. If your video is not live on your app website, you can either put it on a nonpublicized directory/URL or host it on YouTube or Vimeo. Arnold Kim, the proprietor of the largest iPhone game review site on the Web—TouchArcade.com—discusses the importance of videos and how best to pitch review sites in an interview at the end of this chapter.
There are different perspectives on how far in advance you should make your pitch. I recommend that you do so about one or two weeks before you hope for your app to be approved. This time frame is more important for larger sites, which are typically bombarded by review requests and often have editorial schedules to follow.
Making this timing “just right” is yet another example of the importance of intertwining your development and marketing efforts. You’ll need to have a firm handle on how close your app is to being “App Store ready,” when you plan to submit it to Apple, and how long the approval process is currently taking. Knowing this information will help you estimate when you are one to two weeks away from having your app in the store. Be careful, however, because your first time through the App Store approval process may result in a rejection.
Another tip on when to pitch is that you should stay away from making contact with the larger media outlets at the beginning of the week, and in particular, on Monday and Tuesday. Thursday and Friday have less volume; if you are a night owl or workaholic, try pitching on a Friday night or over the weekend. You may not receive a response as quickly, but I find that the response rates are higher.
Compared to many others who are pitching for reviews, you should have an immediate advantage given the approach you’ve taken to building your app. Your app should be considerably more useful and interesting than apps that weren’t validated by customers. The media, in general, don’t write scathing reviews unless they want to mock an app that is horribly embarrassing. That’s not to imply that they won’t have criticisms about your app, because they will. The point is that they want to write about apps that are unique, are creative, are well done, are supported by communities, and give them a story.
As for those who show interest in writing about your app, you will want to try to time their reviews, as well as all reviews, with the approval of your app into the App Store. You can let them know you’ll follow up with them when the app is approved. If they are excited about it, however, don’t hold them back if they want to write about it immediately. By receiving a review before your app is live, you’ll be able to leverage it as confirmation of your efforts. You’ll also be able to tweet a link to the review and select a quote from the review or article to use in your App Store description and on your website.
No, I didn’t forget Phase 5. The actual launch of your app is significant enough that it deserves to be called out separately. The nice thing about Phase 5 is that with all the work you’ve done through the first four phases, the majority of what you’ll be doing once your app is approved will mostly feel like quickly checking items off a to-do list. Yes, there’s actually a method to the madness!
If you have a paid app, you’ll want to use promo codes to distribute promotional (i.e., free) copies of your app. Although many people don’t realize this, promo codes are useful even if you have a free app, so keep reading.
I’m addressing promo codes outside of what I call the “launch checklist” because there’s a little-known aspect of them that can help people preview your app before it’s technically available on the App Store.
The iTunes Connect home page includes an area called Request Promotional Codes (see Figure 8-14). You’ll visit this link to get up to 50 promo codes. In reality, that’s not many, so be somewhat selective with who receives one of them. Also, reserve about 5 to 10 of these codes for your most loyal and helpful beta testers.
There are a number of stipulations about the use of promo codes, including that they can be redeemed only one time, are valid only in the U.S. App Store, and will expire after 28 days. You will, however, get another 50 codes for the app once an update is submitted.
Redeeming promo codes is a somewhat tedious process, but there’s a nice trick—uncovered by tap tap tap—to make them easier to redeem and distribute. Give out a URL such as the following: https://phobos.apple.com/WebObjects/MZFinance.woa/wa/freeProductCodeWizard?code=REPLACEWITHPROMOCODE, where “REPLACEWITHPROMOCODE” should be replaced with the actual promo code. When sharing promo codes, always use this method.
One final tip about promo codes, which makes them useful for paid as well as free apps, is that if your app has been approved but you have not yet made it available on the App Store, you can create promo codes and have people download your app using them. That’s useful for reviewers who may have only seen a video or screenshot of your app but want to experience it firsthand before it’s in the App Store (note that more technical reviewers may also be OK with the ad hoc distribution process described in Chapter 6).
There’s another way to get paid apps in people’s hands for free once your app is released: Gift This App, which I will cover in the next section.
As mentioned before (see the App Store Approval Process section in Chapter 7), once your app has reached the Ready for Sale status you’ll have the option of launching it into the App Store. Or if your Availability Date has already lapsed, your app will automatically be published to the App Store shortly. In either case, when your app is set to be published into the App Store, it will likely take some time—usually several hours—before it begins appearing there. These first items are what you should complete during that time. I’ll then detail a second set of tasks to finish once the app is actually showing in the store.
Notify key media contacts who agreed to review or write about your app that the app has been approved. These contacts should receive promo copies of your app. So, send them the promo code link in your email.
With your app’s entry in the App Store imminent, you should push your post-launch website live. One piece of information that you were previously missing was the iTunes link to your app. You’ll find this link in the approval email Apple sent you next to your Application Name. Copy this link and use it for your App Store or Buy Now button. If you really want to be savvy, sign up as an iTunes affiliate (http://www.apple.com/itunes/affiliates/)—powered by LinkShare—and use the URL generated to earn an additional 5% from any apps that are sold by clicking on that link.
Publish the announcement blog post about your app being approved. You won’t publicize your post on Twitter or other channels until the app is showing in the App Store.
Some people advocate issuing a formal, paid press release. Although this varies according to the audience you’re targeting, I find that they generally are not worth what they cost. Consider a “social media release” as an alternative. You can read “How to Write a Social Media Press Release” (http://www.copyblogger.com/social-media-press-release/) or try a nifty tool called PressDoc (http://pressdoc.com/).
After your app is available on the App Store, proceed with the remaining launch checklist items:
Continue to reach out to other contacts (family, friends, colleagues, customers, reviewers, etc.) after your app is live in the App Store. Provide promo code links to your most engaged customers as a sign of thanks for their help.
When you email your friendly contacts (including family, friends, and customers), ask them to rate and review your app on the App Store. They’ll need to have downloaded or purchased the app to write a review. As a reminder, a review consists of both a star rating (from one to five stars) and a written description.
You’ll need a combination of five ratings or reviews for your app before the Ratings will show any stars. People visiting your App Store listing will definitely look at this area, especially if your app is not free or is priced more aggressively. Getting friendly ratings and reviews in early will get you started in the right direction. If you are a purist and wonder if this move is “cheating,” don’t worry; if your app is bad or hurting, you’ll hear about it.
If there are any early favorable web or App Store reviews, snag quotes and highlight them on your website and in your App Store description. For the App Store description, place these quotes near the top, with the most popular names first.
Tweet a link to your app’s App Store listing and your initial blog post. If you really want people to read the blog post, ensure that it has a link to your app on the App Store and only tweet the link to your blog post.
Finally, once you’ve completed the preceding steps, announce the launch of your app to your email newsletter subscribers (see Figure 8-15). Try to reuse the content from your blog post or just introduce it and then link over to your blog. Be sure to include a link to your app on the App Store in your email newsletter.
After the initial buzz for your app has settled, you should do some additional promotion. In fact, the first 30 days of being on the App Store are critical for the long-term viability of your app. There are a number of ways to keep people interested. For instance, you can and should continue to pitch bloggers and media outlets and get additional press for your app. Although I recommend that you come up with your own creative approaches, here are some proven ways to get additional promotion for your app:
One way to make it more appealing for app review sites to take a look at your app is to offer to conduct an app giveaway for their readers. In this case, you’re providing them promo codes, which they subsequently will decide how to distribute to their readers based on something a reader must do (e.g., follow the review site’s Twitter account and then tweet a link to the review). Promo codes are precious commodities, though, so don’t send these over until someone has agreed to do an app giveaway with you.
A newer feature that Apple introduced into iTunes is called Gift This App. As you now know, you get only 50 promo codes; the Gift This App feature can help overcome that limitation. The added benefit to this approach is that you can use it in conjunction with further growing your email list, since gifting requires that you know the email of the recipient. You could create a page on your website dedicated to this promotion (e.g., the first X people to subscribe to our newsletter get a free copy of our app), or use one of the tools covered in Chapter 3, such as Google Docs, Wufoo, or Unbounce, to do something similar.
Initially, Gift This App might seem expensive to you. For example, if your app costs just $0.99, it would cost you $1,000 to gift 1,000 copies of it. Remember, though, that you’ll get 70% of each sale back. So, it actually would only cost you $300 to gift 1,000 copies. Because of the time constraints for giving away that many copies at once, you probably won’t proceed with such a large promotion—but the point still stands. The Gift This App option is a powerful and cost-effective tool for you to buy goodwill and grow one of your key communication channels. By the way, this feature does not impact ranking, so don’t try to buy your way up the charts.
As you saw, Gift This App is a way to conduct a contest. In the preceding example, there were multiple winners and the “prize” was a free copy of your app. Contests, though, are an area where you can get really creative. Some contests occur over a period of days or weeks and involve multiple steps, such as following a Twitter account and tweeting about joining the contest. The prizes for some contests involve winning much more expensive items, such as iPads or even computers.
Develop your contest around a goal and budget. If you want more followers for your Twitter account, focus on providing an easy way to do that while verifying that it occurs. You also don’t have to spend a large amount of money to make a contest successful. Your prize might be related to your app. If your app is focused on productivity, consider your prize to be a new bestselling business book. I generally recommend creating contests in which there are more prizes that cost less, yielding a greater opportunity for more people to win.
If you do proceed with a contest, clearly set the guidelines either on the page or with a link to them. The guidelines should include what constitutes entering, prize details, the length of the contest, and other limits and liabilities (e.g., no more than one entry per person).
Offering a temporary promotional price for your app can be a way to infuse activity back into your app. You can automatically start and end promotional pricing periods using the Price Tier Effective Date and Price Tier End Date, described in Chapter 7.
One of the immediate benefits of changing your price is that there are a number of sites and Twitter accounts that watch for price drops. They’ll automatically post your price drop, with your app’s App Store link, when your promotional pricing period goes into effect.
Dropping your price typically makes sense when you have a major update coming, are celebrating or trying to spur an event (e.g., getting to 500 Twitter followers or 1,000 sales), or are about to release a new app. You should also experiment with different prices throughout the week and during holidays, because general trends are that downloads increase 10% to 20% through the weekend and spike even higher during holidays.
One concept I touched on in Chapter 1 is that you increase your chances of being successful with future apps once you’ve released your first app. That’s even truer if that app has gotten some attention and buzz and helped make a name for you. Not only will customers be excited for other apps you are working on, but you’ll also have the opportunity to use your most popular apps to cross-promote those new ones.
There are a couple of more common ways to do cross-app promotions, and you’ll often find that they are combined. A more basic approach is to run an advertisement in your most popular app that promotes your newest app, linking to it in the App Store. Some developers use their own advertising framework to accomplish the cross-promotion of their own apps, but AdMob’s AdWhirl and other third-party advertising options can also help with that integration (see Figure 8-16).
A more aggressive cross-app promotion is to make one app free. When Imangi Studios launched the Harbor Master HD iPad version of its popular iPhone app Harbor Master it decided to make it free. It then cross-promoted its iPhone games, including Harbor Master and Hippo High Dive (see Figure 8-16). Its strategy can be considered doing a promotional “price” of free combined with cross-app promotion.
Leveraging mobile advertising to increase exposure for your app is definitely something to explore. You can run campaigns on mobile ad networks to drive awareness and, ultimately, more downloads for your app. Tapjoy also offers an innovative “pay per install” model, whereby you set the price you are willing to pay for someone to install your app (http://tapjoy.com/Company/AboutPPI/). Of course, you need to be smart about how you use these options; spending money makes sense only if it helps you achieve your goals or, at the very least, allows you to break even.
A popular approach, for games in particular, is to have your app be part of a “network.” Imangi Studios—the creator of Harbor Master—is part of a network called App Treasures (http://www.apptreasures.com/), which consists of a number of small, independent game developers. Each app in this network contains an area dedicated to promoting the apps of all members of the network. Mentioned in Chapter 2, larger options in the game space include Plus+ (http://plusplus.com/) and OpenFeint (http://www.openfeint.com/), which also provide tools for game developers.
The lack of formalized networks for other categories is actually an opportunity for you. Seek out apps complementary to yours, or talk with your colleagues in the development community and explore forming your own network. This will give you another channel through which to promote your app and further strengthen your ties with peers.
Like smaller review sites and less popular bloggers, local media outlets are often ignored. With everyone clambering to get attention with app review sites and nationally known publications, you’ll have significantly less, and possibly no, competition for your local community news sites. If your city or town also has a local print publication, pitching to it may also mean your name winds up in print. Remember that you are still in a relatively new industry, and that although iPhone or iPad stories are a dime a dozen in larger publications, it could represent a scoop for a local news outlet.
Obviously, much of what is covered in this chapter is useful beyond the pre-launch and immediate post-launch of your app. You can consider adopting many of these same principles and processes throughout the existence of your app, whether for a simple update or for a more significant release.
Background: Phill Ryu is part of the leadership team at tap tap tap and MacHeist. He co-created the bestselling app Classics, and when he’s not cooking up cool app ideas, he’s cooking up ways to craftily get those apps into customers’ hands.
Ken: The folks at tap tap tap have been in the Apple world for quite some time. Is familiarity with the Apple mindset and way of doing things a key part of making it on the App Store?
Phill: It may be the most important single part of making it in the App Store. Apple has worked extremely hard over the years to create a strong culture of high standards, in UI design, user experience, and marketing and launching products, and you can see how that culture affects every inch of their product line. It’s similar with iPhone app development—there are apps you can just take a glance at and realize, yeah, these developers have grown up adoring Apple culture and ideals, and these apps will tend to do very well. They have the “special sauce” down.
Ken: Having been on the App Store since the beginning, what are the major differences with it now compared to then, and how has that influenced how you approach building and releasing iPhone apps?
Phill: The major difference is it’s a much larger, more mature market, which means more customers to potentially reach, but also more intense competition, and more possibilities to just get lost in the crowd.
This is where some critical mass, whether it is through a powerful, growing brand or a fan base, can provide some level of insurance. We’ve accrued some of this over the years, so one thing we’re doing now that we weren’t doing then is working with some developers to help them hedge their app launches when we see an app that really deserves success.
Ken: You’ve had an incredible number of hits to this point, including WhereTo, Classics, Convert, and Voices. How have you been able to ensure that you weren’t a “one-hit wonder”? What do you consider the core elements for creating a successful app?
Phill: There’s just one very important question I like to ask myself before diving into a project: “How big is the vacuum?”
This will answer pretty much all your questions; the bigger the vacuum, the better. You can find vacuums of all sorts in the App Store if you look around. There might be a quality vacuum in a certain popular app genre, a vacuum of developers leveraging free for their paid app sales, or a vacuum of booby apps because Apple just removed a ton of them. There are always vacuums, and vacuums are the easiest things to fill in the world, because they inherently want to be filled. There’s huge pressure and demand for it. And when you fill large vacuums, releasing that potential energy and pressure for your own benefit, you will do well.
If you look at our apps so far, you’ll see a pattern of successful apps in fairly popular/crowded genres that then took those app categories a step or two forward, usually in the design and user experience department, filling those vacuums. For us, on a much smaller scale, we’re trying to replicate the magic of the iPhone launch: the release of a product that’s so much nicer to use than the status quo that it feels slightly magical. If you can nail that, you should do fine.
Ken: Once you release an app, what metrics and signs are you watching to gauge success and what tools do you use to view them? If an app starts off more slowly or seems “in trouble,” what sorts of steps would you take to get it back on track?
Phill: App launch month will involve fairly compulsive viewing of the App Store “top paid” and category charts for your app’s charting position—since Apple doesn’t provide real-time sales information, it’s the best we have in terms of gauging an app’s trajectory, and that means madly refreshing pages in iTunes and on your phone while cursing Akamai when things randomly get cached for hours and don’t update.
From our experience, if an app isn’t cut out to chart high, it’s not worth the trouble trying to prop it up. It’s best to learn your lesson and move on, with a slightly better idea of the App Store demographics’ tastes, than fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy.
Ken: In your post “The Cookie Cutter Guide to Charting in the App Store” (http://www.taptaptap.com/blog/the-cookie-cutter-guide-to-charting-in-the-app-store/) you discuss how you pushed a completely unknown app to the top of the charts very quickly. You mention that this approach was experimental. Would you do it again? What are the right situations to take that approach versus teasing an app and building excitement for it before release?
Phill: Teasing an app and building excitement for it before release can fit right into the “shaken-up soda bottle” model of building up pressure for release at launch, but just be careful to implement a way to notify interested people instantly that your app is out. Interested people coming back to the page a week after your app launched after bookmarking it two weeks earlier won’t help you too much for your initial bid at the Top 100 chart.
You should always try to take at least some form of this kind of app launch if possible, even if it’s on a much smaller scale. If you take one thing away from that post, it should be this: a concentrated blast is much more powerful than longer sustained promotion, because higher charting (from the concentrated sales) starts bringing in more and more customers the higher you get in a feedback cycle of increased visibility/freshness.
Ken: In that same post, you write about MacHeist being a “rocket” to launch your apps. Although you mention that the rocket could be considerably smaller for other developers, many of those in that category don’t have any mailing lists at all. If they have no lists and can’t partner with someone, what should they do to get attention for their apps?
Phill: I’m going to start with the assumption that this is an app that the developer really cares about, and believes is great. If so, this is where I recommend the Classics style approach—get it pretty much totally ready or submitted with an adjustable release date set, then at least throw up a teaser page with an email sign-up on release notification for visitors and start promoting that page as much as you can. This is by far the best approach for collecting potential energy in the form of interested, probable customers signing up to hear about when the app is out, then releasing it at your cue when the app is out and you’re trying to chart.
Ken: What is your guidance and philosophy on pricing apps? How is pricing a strategy, and do you think about it per app or just have a general approach that you apply across any app you launch?
Phill: We believe in affordable software (you can see some of that belief shine through in our past history in the Mac community with MacHeist, our other business). With the App Store, we have an extremely efficient distribution and sales system set up on everyone’s iPhone and iPod touch, and if anything, this means if your app becomes a hit you can price your app at $0.99 and make a bundle. We see some niche apps where it makes sense to price higher and do low-volume, high-margin business off of people who really need your app and go out to find it, but ultimately at tap tap tap we do focus on producing mainstream-friendly apps, so as a rule of thumb we price low and aim for high volume.
It’s definitely situational, though; there are some apps where you’ll look at them and a “freemium” model makes perfect sense. Or just free with ads, or dirt cheap aiming for a chart blockbuster, or high for a more niche business. It’s just important for developers coming from other ecosystems to banish the idea that selling an app for $0.99 and making a living off of it is impossible. The App Store makes it possible now; it’s tough to make it happen, but it’s possible.
Ken: Do you consider apps to have a certain life span to them? For example, at some point do you stop worrying about tinkering with the price and no longer invest in adding features to them?
Phill: The App Store approval process is not very tuned for constant minor maintenance fixes and updates. We’re interested in shipping a really, really solid 1.0, updating it with any critical fixes if necessary, then rolling out major (usually free) upgrades on a slower cycle. I actually find super-frequent app updates really annoying personally as an iPhone user (they can really stack up when you have dozens of apps), so I can see why Apple subtly pressures toward less frequent updates, with minor provisions for pushing out emergency bug fixes quickly.
Sales-wise, apps do tend to have a certain life span to them. It’s pretty rare that an app will chart multiple times—you need something major like being featured in an Apple television ad, or a heavily promoted major upgrade, to boost you back into the top 100. This is another reason we’re interested in concentrating on less frequent, but really meaty updates. They’re something worth posting about from the perspective of media and bloggers, and for us, they’re worth promoting heavily for another good shot at charting and a “second life” of sales, so to speak.
Position: User interface designer
Background: Jeremy Olson is a UI designer and app developer. As part of the creation of his first application, Grades, Jeremy chronicled his marketing strategies on his personal blog, Tapity.com (http://Tapity.com). Grades went on to be featured by Apple on the App Store. It quickly climbed the charts, becoming the second ranked app in the Education category a week after launch.
Ken: You began talking very early about your app, Grades, probably even before it was built. Describe why you did that and how it plays a part in building a successful app.
Jeremy: Taking the time to journal my design, development, and marketing of Grades on my Tapity blog was one of the best “marketing” decisions I ever made. I started the blog after reading Tribes [Portfolio], Seth Godin’s inspiring book on leadership. The back cover of that book says, “If you think leadership is only for other people, you’re wrong. We need YOU to lead us.” At that time, I didn’t really believe him, but it did inspire me to try to learn how to build successful iPhone applications and to see if anyone would want to follow along. Keep in mind, at this point I hadn’t the slightest knowledge of how to design, develop, or market for the iPhone. I was a nobody in the iPhone development community, armed only with a passion for user interface design, a web development background, and an inspiration to lead.
I was astonished to see it actually work. After a few months of painstakingly blogging into the air (hey, I did get a few comments), tap tap tap—one of the most successful iPhone development shops out there—noticed the blog because I had been discussing some of the strategies they used. They blogged about it. Since then, Tapity has grown in influence and has given me the opportunity to learn from and engage with some of the most successful developers out there.
But so what? Why should you care about gaining respect in the iPhone developer community? I wondered the same thing. After all, my target market is college students, not iPhone developers. The answer to that question, I found, is twofold.
First, Apple does a decent job at documenting the basics of the App Store process, but much of the way the App Store works remains a mystery. Luckily, the iPhone development community is tremendous. By earning their respect by sharing my own experiences, I have gained access to a wealth of anecdotes, data points, and seasoned advice that fill a good number of the gaps Apple neglects to talk about.
Second, iPhone app marketing is largely about connections. Maybe I didn’t get too many college students interested in Grades directly by writing a blog, but I certainly got the eyeballs of some influential people in the press, and, more importantly, the attention of the customer every iPhone developer should do anything to woo: Apple. Apple employees—the people who decide what gets featured on the App Store—are real people; they read these kinds of blogs. I bet that doing the blog played a big role in being prominently featured by Apple the week after Grades launched.
Ken: While you are an actual student in college, you are also a student of the App Store. How did you first begin learning about the inner details of the App Store, and how have you discovered many of the tips and tricks that are now in your toolkit?
Jeremy: Apple doesn’t like to talk about the mechanics of the App Store, but there is definitely a wealth of information available; you just have to dig for it. I started by absorbing all the information developers have posted on their blogs: sales, diagrams, ups and downs, lessons learned.
I also did a lot of “primary research.” It’s simpler than it sounds. A lot of data and insight can be found by simply observing the App Store and the apps that do and don’t make it. Look through the Top 100 chart and think about why those apps appealed to people. Starting with their website, try to see what kind of marketing they did. You can also use Google and Twitter search to see what kind of buzz they’ve been getting (and through what venues).
Read reviews—what do people appreciate in an app and what do they tend to complain about? You’ll notice that people will often leave bad reviews simply because the app doesn’t include a feature they imagined it should. Based on this, I realized that my app had to be extremely focused on the task at hand: calculating the grades you need. I could have included all kinds of neat class management features like assignment due dates and scheduling features (the more features the better, right?). Doing that, however, would cause users to desire infinitely more features in a category I really couldn’t compete in (class management). The result would either be unsatisfied users or a cluttered mess. So, definitely read reviews, especially of apps in your niche.
In the end, though, the iPhone developer community is far and away the most valuable resource for figuring out how the App Store works. This goes back to the importance of developing a network of iPhone developers you respect and who respect you—and who are willing to share their experiences and insights.
Ken: Expound on the importance of the iPhone developer community. Provide an example where you have seen that interacting with them helped you learn something you didn’t know.
Jeremy: I’ll share how I came upon a trick that made Grades stay at the top of the Education category’s front page for an entire day. A few days before I launched Grades I wanted to know what I should set as the release date, so I asked my developer friends on Twitter. I learned from another developer that you can set the release date to some time in the future and then on the day you plan to launch, set it back to that particular day.
With that information, I discovered an amazingly valuable trick. The front page of any given category (in my case, Education) on the iPhone App Store, by default, is sorted by Release Date. By looking at several category pages, however, I realized that it is sorted not only by date, but by time as well (with the most recent apps showing up first). Since most developers don’t tinker with their release dates, most new apps show up around midnight. Knowing this, I set my release date to some arbitrary date in the future, then at 6:00 a.m. on launch day (Monday) I set the release date back to Monday. Since the other new apps came out at midnight and mine came out at 6:00 a.m., mine was technically more recent and, thus, remained at the top of the new apps list for almost an entire day!
Moral of the story: tapping into the experiences of other developers can help you come up with strategies and tricks of your own. Note that the App Store is constantly changing, so I cannot promise that this technique (or any, for that matter) will always work.
Ken: Grades had a very specific marketing plan, and when it launched, you began getting buzz even before anyone really wrote about it. What did that marketing plan include and how did you ensure that you successfully executed it?
Jeremy: I would make a distinction between my marketing plan and my launch plan. I started “marketing” Grades a year before it launched by simply writing about the ups and downs of development on my blog and getting noticed in the development community. My general marketing plan also included the following:
Build a following on Twitter by tweeting about iPhone design and marketing strategies.
Set up a beta program months before launching—by launch time I had an “army” of beta testers who loved the app. This was crucial in establishing a solid base of glowing reviews on launch day.
Design a good-looking pre-launch website where people could sign up to be notified on launch day.
So, my marketing really started many months before launch, but a few weeks before my planned launch date, I started putting my launch plan into action, which included the following:
Engaged a lot of the top bloggers, influential techies, and Apple employees on Twitter. I never mentioned Grades explicitly, but in some cases the mere act of “following” them on Twitter was enough to spark their interest in Grades since I mentioned it on my Twitter profile.
Allowed MacStories, a large Mac blog, to post a preview and promo code giveaway.
Submitted review requests to all the major review websites prior to launch. It is best for reviews to be concentrated around launch day, so send your requests a week or more before launch in order to give them time to write their reviews.
Engaged with local press and scored a video interview as well as a Facebook post to the unofficial North Carolina Facebook page (48,000 fans) and a post to the official Facebook page for my university, UNC Charlotte (7,000 fans). As you noted, this generated quite a bit of launch buzz (especially on Twitter) and that buzz alone pushed the app into the Top 100 list in Education even before it received any press coverage.
Jeremy: Two words: Apple (oh, wait, that’s one word). This applies especially to hit-based apps (mentioned earlier), but any kind of promotion you get pales in comparison to being featured by Apple. This isn’t all about luck, though. I was fairly certain my app would be featured by Apple (and was delighted when it was featured just a week after launch). It starts with the app itself: your app must meet or exceed Apple’s standards of quality and polish, and the idea behind it must be solid. As I mentioned earlier, I think gaining the respect of the iPhone developer community also greatly increases your chances of being noticed by Apple. Finally, you’ve got to make your own splash if you want Apple to make you a bigger one. I built up a bunch of pre-launch buzz and then launched with quite a bit of fanfare, scoring some decent press along the way. If you don’t bother to do great marketing yourself, don’t expect Apple to do it for you.
It’s tough to stay high on the rankings. Even most of the top apps fall out of the Top 100 eventually. If you are doing the hit-based approach, you want the initial spike to be as high as possible and the fall to be as gradual as possible. Major updates can help; including Facebook, Twitter, and email sharing features within the app can help; being featured by Apple in staff picks can really help. If you’ve priced your app high enough you can experiment with advertising within other apps or online. I haven’t tried this since it would be difficult to have a great ROI for a $0.99 app. These things may help your app have a soft landing somewhere on the Top 100 chart of your category, which will also help with sustained sales.
Websites: MacRumors; TouchArcade
Background: Arnold Kim (often referred to as “Arn” online) is the owner of MacRumors, a popular Apple rumors website. Seeing the importance of the iPhone platform, Arnold opened TouchArcade in 2008, dedicating it to game reviews. It is extremely popular, with more than 40,000 active members.
Ken: Touch Arcade is one of the most popular iPhone gaming review sites on the Web, and as such, you probably receive a very large number of review requests. What makes a request stand out? What are the biggest mistakes developers make when they submit review requests? What almost automatically prevents them from being considered?
Arnold: Yes, we do get a large number of requests for reviews and we try to examine each one. Even so, the volume can be overwhelming at times. Given the number of apps coming out for the iPhone, TouchArcade is about game discovery as much as it is about reviews. While I can’t say there’s any one thing that a developer could do to automatically prevent them from being considered, there are many seemingly obvious things that developers should be doing.
When submitting a game for review to TouchArcade or any review site, I recommend that developers include their game information (name and description), screenshots, iTunes URL, and a link to a video. While each of these items may seem incredibly basic, a great many requests we receive don’t include all these items. Anything a developer can do in their review submission to give us a sense of what the game is about is going to be incredibly helpful and will help them stand out from the pack.
Basic information like the iTunes URL is often omitted and can make it harder for us to even find the game in the App Store. Screenshots are eye-catching, and in our case, a video can easily convey the game play both to us as well as potential players. At that point, an app has a much better chance of standing on its own merits rather than potentially being lost in the crowd.
TouchArcade also hosts a very active player community that is always on the lookout for great new games. Preparing a game play video for launch serves the additional purpose of advertising to your customers. Due to the unpredictability of Apple’s approval process, I’ve seen many developers’ games launch without videos in place, and I think that’s a huge opportunity lost. An app’s launch in the App Store is a critical time and frequently results in a large spike in sales. Everything you can do to build buzz, sales, and interest at that time will build momentum for long-term success.
Ken: If someone submits a request to you (or to other sites) and gets no response back and never receives a review, how persistent should this person be in trying again? When should the person give up trying? Is there anything that can be done that would change your mind and make you want to review the app? Similarly, if a developer who has had a review in the past submits a review request to you, what types of changes in the app would you look for to find it worth writing about again?
Arnold: Unfortunately, we have trouble replying to each review request. I know this can be frustrating for developers not to get some acknowledgment back. Unfortunately, due to the pace of the App Store, if we’ve already evaluated an app and decided we aren’t going to review it, it’s unlikely we’ll return to it in the future. Sending in a couple of requests is fine, as things can get lost in the mix. Major updates to games, however, will have us reconsider games for review, so it’s always worth keeping us updated with those changes.
If we pass or miss your game, we might change our minds if we see a lot of interest and reaction to a game in our forums. As we said, our forum community is very active and developers have had a lot of luck generating interest in their games there. There have been occasions that we might have skipped a game, only to return to it due to the popularity in our community.
Ken: From all the games you’ve played and reviewed since the App Store opened, what do you consider the elements for a long-term successful app? What do you think developers need to do to keep apps thriving once the buzz of a review is over?
Arnold: That’s a bit of a tricky question. Long-term success with a single game or app is such a rare thing in the App Store. There are probably a handful of apps that can really be considered long-term successes. I think what is a much more reasonable goal is trying to attain long-term success as a developer potentially across multiple titles. The TouchArcade community has brought developers and players together, and I’ve found that many of the successful developers have been able to build up a fan base for their games. So, building your own personal brand and community of customers will help you establish long-term success, and also helps you get noticed by review sites.
Here’s what you learned in this chapter:
Marketing is a process that occurs in parallel with development. Like the development process, it incorporates customers, who are the gatekeepers of an app’s long-term success, once the initial buzz dies down.
Twitter is a key channel to build influence with potential customers and peers. “Being useful” on Twitter is the best way to gain credibility with those you are attempting to engage.
Having a web presence will provide a central communication hub for your app. Initially, the website will be a “splash” page, representing an extension of your app’s early design while helping set the tone for its future aesthetics.
Pitching your app is the most time-sensitive part of creating your marketing crescendo. Be smart about whom you pitch, how you pitch, and when you pitch, in order to maximize buzz around the launch of your app.
Promoting an app does not stop after it launches. There are a number of ways to keep people interested in your app once it’s in the App Store. You can try using some of the proven tactics, but you should also be creative when developing promotional opportunities.