How do I market my app? Should I hire a marketing agency? I’ve bet you probably heard these questions or seen them posted online. If you’re an app developer you’ve probably even asked them yourself. We have published a few games now and have tried many different marketing techniques. We actually make it a point to try new marketing “experiments” with each new app. We’ve hired marketing agencies before and we’ve also done it ourselves. It is our conclusion that if you’re willing invest the time and effort—marketing your app yourself not only costs far less, but also produces more exposure.
Hiring an app marketing agency can be costly. On the low end you’re going to be spending $3,000 and the high end runs into tens of thousands of dollars. Most of them have different packages that include submitting to review sites, tweeting, managing your Facebook page, putting out press releases, etc. To most independent developers an app marketing agency is not a luxury that can be afforded. Other developers, like us, even though we could afford an agency we choose not to because in our eyes increases the risk of developing the app. So what do I mean by that? The lower the cost to bring an app to market, the lower the risk to take of developing that app. If you spend $10,000 in real money or opportunity costs, your app has to make that money back before it is profitable. If you add a few thousand more dollars of marketing costs after the development costs you just added more to your total investment and risk.
Now let me be clear about one thing—you have to market your app. Marketing can have a huge impact on the success or failure of an app. It is not option, it has to be done. Before you point to apps like Tiny Wings and Bubble Ball let me point out that those are exceptions or flukes. For every Tiny Wings app, there are thousands and thousands of apps on the app store that no one has heard of. And they receive only a few downloads a year. You can’t just put out your app and wait on people to discover it, you’re going to need to invest in marketing. The good news is that investing in marketing your app doesn’t have to cost you a lot of money.
Before we talk about where to spend your time and money marketing your app, lets start with what doesn’t work. In our experience investing in ads doesn’t work. We have seen absolutely no up tick in our sales based on ads we have bought. It might work for larger developers that can afford to canvas review sites with their apps, but if you’re a little developer don’t waste your money. The only possible exception to this rule is what I’m going to call a payoff. There are some sites that offer a deal where if you purchase ad space they will review your app. That won’t guarantee you a good review, but it will get your app reviewed in more places and that has been worth it to us in the past.
So where should you invest your time and resources? First, we spend a lot of time making sure all our marketing materials are polished. This includes the app description, screenshots, trailer, and website. Writing should be brief and enticing, written for normal people and stripped of all marketing speak. A few sentences to a paragraph is plenty for the description. Include a bulleted list of the features. Screenshots and trailers go a long way to convince people to check out your app. The idea of a trailer may intimidate some people, but it can be as simple recording yourself using the app. If your app is a game this is especially true, people love to see game play footage.
Second, invest your time in trying to acquire app reviews. We believe that app review sites are the second place people go to find out about new apps. The first place is the app store. We have not control over the app store lists, but you can have impact on the review sites. Spend time compiling a list of all the top review sites. Here is a list of the top ten to get you started. There are many many more sites out there, put them in a spread sheet and include contact information/submission guidelines. Each site is different in how they want people to contact them for app submission/reviews, so make notes on the spreadsheet. Develop relationships with reviewers at these sites. Don’t overlook the lesser trafficked sites, many will jump at the chance to review a cool new app. Finally when it comes to reviews, don’t forget about youtube. Do a search on youtube for app reviews. You’ll be surprised how many individuals review apps—its not just companies. Make a list of those reviewers and contact them as well.
What do you say when contacting reviewers? When emailing reviewers it is important to polite, brief, and provide them with enough information to entice them into making a decision to review your app. Here is an example of an email we sent out for Float.
Would you like to review our new game Float for iOS devices? Its current on the New and Noteworthy list and its starting to get some good attention. Let me know and I’ll send you a promo code. Thanks.
Float is a game that makes you feel happy. Try to keep the balloons in the air and off the spikes. Tap, bobble, and bump your way to fun. With multiple games modes, achievements, and leader boards there is something for everyone.
4.5 out of 5 – Appsmile.com
4.5 out of 5 – CrazyMikesapps.com
4 out of 5 – Appspy.com
Multiple Game Modes
Open Feint & Facebook Leaderboards
Over 40 Achievements
Post Your Scores to Facebook
Increase Your Fun with Game Mode Packs
On some review sites there is another opportunity to market your app and that is in the fourms. One of the most vibrant hubs of app discussion is the toucharcade.com forum. Most of the app forums have dedicated channels where developers can announce their new app. Similar to the email example above, post important information about your app like pricing, screenshots, and trailer links. Encourage feedback in your post and don’t be afraid to give away promo codes. Don’t forget to subscribe to the post, that way you will be notified when someone posts a comment and you can keep the post activity going.
Third, get involved in social media. With over 600 million people on Facebook and 100 million registered users on Twitter these are clearly online hubs of communication. Since most people in your social circles are presumably interested in you and the things you are doing its low hanging fruit. But go the extra steps, especially in the case with Facebook. Not only setup a facebook page for your company or apps, but develop your apps with social integration in mind. In the case of our games, we give the player the opportunity to post their score to their facebook stream, compete against their friends in Facebook leaderboards, and like our company and the game. If people like the app and you give them the tools, they will market it for you.
Fourth, always develop a lite or free versions of the app. People want to try before they buy. Even if the price is only $0.99, there will always be a portion that people that just won’t purchase without trying it first. Like a digital drug dealer, give away a taste for free and then when people are hooked charge them for more. We have done both free and lite versions of games. Both work well it just depends on your strategy. We have made more money off the free version of Float that serves ads than the paid version in the Apple store. Our strategy going forward is to release the paid version with a lite version that drives them to the paid version. Depending on how well the paid version performs, we will then remove the lite version and put out a free version with ads. You can always put out a free version later, so hold off and see how well your paid version does.
Finally, consider doing giveaways. There are lots of ways to do this, as I mentioned above giving away promo codes through forums, review sites, twitter, etc is a great way to spread the word. Consider large giveaway programs and sites. Most of them require revenue sharing or a fee upfront, but they can get you a huge amount of exposure. One example is FreeAppADay.com. It has a large amount of followers and can be used as a calculated risk. We used them to promote Float Free. We paid them $3,500 to participate in their give away and it catapulted Float Free to the top of the free charts. This calculated risk paid off for us through $12,000 in ad revenue. Another great give away program is through Open Feint. If you use Open Feint in your app you can participate in their give away program. The terms for their program are revenue share or an upfront payment. If you don’t want to spend any money, you can always just change the price of your app to free in the store. Simply by making the app free will get your app on quite a few sites’ radars, which can lead to new reviews and increased exposure. All giveaways and free periods need to be thought out though. Making your app free will increase exposure and downloads, but your app’s ratings will suffer. People don’t value free so you will get a lot of people downloading your app just because it is free, not because they have any real interest in it. Bad comments and one star reviews are sure to follow, so be prepared going into it. One good strategy is to have an update ready to roll out after the free period to wash away the bad reviews and get your ratings back up. Calculate your risks and plan ahead to make the most out of giveaways.
Hopefully this has given you some ideas to try. Having little or no marketing budget doesn’t mean you can’t generate exposure for your app. We believe using these techniques that we can do a better job marketing our apps for far less risk, enabling us to continue to make games.