While there is no magic formula or single marketing action that may do the trick for you, these strategies can provide you with a framework to help you increase company exposure, sales and profit. Marketing your iPhone/Touch app is definitely a process that can take time.
I will let you know that we have not found price reductions to be the best strategy. We initially thought this might be very effective as the App store structure is set up to rank applications by the number of total downloads. Higher total sales and total downloads by price category are not currently recognized with Apple’s system.
Keep in mind for instance that if your app was $5 and you decided to lower it to $0.99, you’d have tell sell five times as many just to break even. Now you might temporarily increase exposure this way, but at the expense of maximizing your profit margins when you are most apt to do well at the beginning of your product life cycle. Customer support issues may increase by a factor of five as well.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with adjusting your app’s price in the beginning to find its best market price (which might change over time).
There are 24,455 apps and counting, so let’s jump in and get started!
1. The World (iTunes App Store) Is Flat
Consider your potential international market right from the moment of conceptualization. There are people all over the planet eager to use and benefit from quality applications. Initially we intended to include the metric system and local currency in our app, but decided to push it back until version 1.1. We were so eager to start the submission process with Apple and this ended up negatively affected our sales without question. I recommend taking that extra time to make your app useful to the international community, or even a few key markets (China, Russia, Central and South America, Japan, and Germany come to mind).
What does this mean? If currencies are used, auto-detect the user’s local currency under their device’s general settings; and if applicable handle currency conversions. Make your website, instructions, and sales pages easy to understand and use images to support your text. Consider that for many people, English may be their second or third language. Make your software more intuitive by choosing symbols over text wherever possible. Reach out to bloggers for your niche market in Europe and Asia. Include a complimentary promo code in your correspondence. It can’t hurt.
Consider this: we received nearly $1,000 in sales from Italy because of a single online post written in Italian! Now you could go further with this and have your sales page and help instructions translated into major languages like Spanish or Chinese. Prices for quality work vary and you’ll need to get someone fluent in the language to double check their work.
Remember there are 65 different versions of iTunes around the world and counting. Single apps can be developed for use on the iPhone and the iPod Touch. How big is the market for both? Apple does not breakdown sales of individual product lines. A conservative estimate with 4.4 million iPhone sales and 22.7 million iPod sales for last quarter would be about 7 million in three months. That’s an average of 78,000 new devices coming online daily. Incredible and almost scary. It can’t last forever, but wow!
2. Create a Lite or Demo Version
Apple lets developers offer both a free and paid version of the same app, and a free sample is probably the most successful marketing strategy ever. People want to try things. There are plenty of CrApps (crappy apps) out there, so why should people risk money on an app they know nothing about from a company they know even less about? If you can give people a taste that is just enough, they’ll buy the whole meal from you! This way you take away much of the risk.
There are numerous strategies for this, but make sure the lite version sales page is clear in its limitations vs. the paid or full version. If you truncate the app too much, people may think it’s a complete dud and see no value in paying you anything for the premium release. Give people a clear idea of what they’re getting into and this strategy could make you rich. Developer Ethan Nicholas offers motivation to go this route in a recent Wired piece:
When iShoot launched in October, business was slow for a while. And then Nicholas found some spare time to code a free version of the app – iShoot Lite, which he released January. Here’s how that helped: Inside iShoot Lite he advertised the $3, full version of iShoot. Users downloaded the free version 2.4 million times. And that led 320,000 satisfied iShoot Lite players to pay for iShoot.
3. Go Free
Now this is something that can be considered for different reasons. Right now “in app” advertising lacks sophistication. When I say that, I mean we don’t have Google AdSense yet. I’m sure it’s coming, but embedded advertising that does not relate to the content in any manner is really intrusive in my personal opinion. I still read about certain developers making tons of money with embedded app advertising, but it’s hard enough to get people to click on ads if they’re relevant. When they’re not, the click-through rate is pretty low. If your app is something that people use again and again, advertising can still work. We personally did not find it successful as it’s much easier to make about 70 cents off of a 99 cent app than to earn the same amount with ads. You could also add a PayPal donation button as AppCubby did, but this probably won’t work for you unless you have a large pre-existing customer or fan base.
You could also introduce your app for free. Get people using it, talking about it, and receive positive feedback. Then start charging people. Perfectly acceptable with Apple.
Looking at it from a long-term perspective, you might completely give away the first app to get people talking, create a base and build your brand. After all, nothing spreads like free (especially good free). You can use this to gather contact info and feedback from your initial users and turn them into customers for your next app or product. Be sure to include a “share” feature inside your free app (inside all of your apps!). Make sharing as easy as possible.
4. Send Out a Press Release
PRMac, a free (or almost free) press release distribution service, and the MacNN (Macintosh News Network) syndicate (free to submit) are definitely worth the price of submission. Competing services can charge over $600 for distribution within the United States alone, so these are valuable and less costly alternatives. They say the press release is dead, but these offerings directly targeted your potential customers. You never know who you might reach; and it’s vital to provide a press release when soliciting all forms of media.
5. Contact the Top 100 Blogs
Technorati can provide you with the current list. Use a conversational style, get right to the point and include a promo code. Figure out what could sell them on your company. If there’s an interesting angle or story around your app, this could increase your chances. Ask them if you could do a guest post. Who knows? When you have sites like Gizmodo that get 3 million pageviews per day, this can absolutely turbocharge sales!
6. Constantly Improve Your Sales Page
This one is pretty basic, but often overlooked. Look at the sales pages of other top apps. What are they doing? Emulate what works and keep researching to spark ideas. You can display up to five images as of this writing, so use them! Use the images that sell your product best. Ask other people what grabs their attention. Use quotes from reviewers; share benefits first and foremost. Customers are not always logical, so don’t bore them with statistics. How will your application make their lives better?
7. Use Customer Feedback to Build a Better Product
This is two parts. First, timely respond to customer emails and realize that every interaction with customers, whether good or bad, is a marketing opportunity. When you get feedback via email or through your customer reviews, consider and incorporate these improvements. You can’t please everyone all of the time, and you may have limited resources, so you won’t be able to add everything. Some great ideas are bound to come your way. First-time users can also let you see how your software is being used from a beginner’s perspective.
The second way to receive customer feedback is to embed analytics code in your application. Flurry Analytics and Pinch Media both offer tracking software that will provide insight into how customers are interacting with your application, including real-time download information, all for free. This can be especially useful if 90% of your customers are not using a particular feature. Maybe they don’t know it’s even there!
8. Continually Update Your Application
Here’s a great feature of the App Store. New versions move back to the top of what’s new in your category. Incorporating features your customers want, thereby making your product better, coupled with maintaining visibility, can help increase or at least maintain steady sales. Don’t abuse this by changing a few words in your help section and then resubmitting or you could ruin this for everybody. If you are working hard to make your product better, the distribution channel can reward you with increased exposure, because you are renewing.
Google AdWords and AdMob are possible options. I believe we’re not there yet, but we’re pretty close. AdWords does offer the ability to advertise on mobile devices with a full internet browser, but that doesn’t just include the iPhone and Touch. You’ll get Androids and more depending on which territory you advertise. Right now they haven’t developed conversion tracking for apps either, and without this you can just burn through cash with little results to show for your efforts. You won’t know which keywords are working or aren’t working. There is one way to track sales using this method: become an iTunes affiliate by joining LinkShare. You can create a link to your sales page in the App store and receive a 5% commission on qualifying purchases.
AdMob has app advertising down better than Google so far. You are able to track your conversions and target relevant Apple devices. You can even target those that are either on or off the WiFi network, which is pretty cool. The downside to this is that you are paying at least 10 cents a click to send someone to your App store sales page. No guarantee of sales here and depending on the price of your application, this leaves very little margin to spend on advertising. It can take a hundred clicks just to get an actual sale, so keep that in mind. Also, since AdMob doesn’t target your ads very well, the people clicking are not actually seeking what you’re offering as they would on a Google search.
Here are a few examples of Google AdWords ads below from companies with money to burn; this luxury is not something everyone can afford and it may not be worthwhile anyway.One last consideration: even if you break even from your advertising, you could increase your ranking in the store, and thereby receive more sales from the increased exposure. If you are popular, sales can feed off themselves. iTunes is a distribution channel, but so is Walmart. If you are featured next to the register, you’re gonna get more sales. If you’re at the bottom of the shelf on aisle 34, good luck!
10. Use Social Networks
Facebook Fan pages, online forums, and quality comments on top blogs and news sites can help you get conversations started about your company. Comments are even crawled and tracked by the major search engines. Be part of the discussion and actually share something relevant or this could work against you. You could quickly end up being considered spam (and despised or banished by your fellow netizens). Subtlety here will carry you far. Also create profiles to further your cause.
11. Get Featured in the App Store
This one is tricky obviously because how do you make it a part of your marketing plan? You do not choose, but are chosen. I will say this for what it’s worth. I contacted iTunes about a month ago and asked to be featured Today we are. It never hurts to ask and it can be worth quite a bundle! You never know who you’re going to reach. Someone may say something to someone else. That’s how it happens.
Thus far, we’ve increased our average daily sales almost tenfold. We are currently (2/23/09-3/9/09) featured on the front page of the App Store in iTunes under “New And Noteworthy” and #7 in “What’s New” on the iPhone/Touch.
Every time I contact media, even if nothing comes of it, I’m sharing my company and my product with powerful people (or people in contact with powerful people) and I never know directly or indirectly where this can lead.
Keep plugging away and please share your ideas and experiences with me. I’d love to hear about them. I wish you the greatest success!
John R. Haigh recently collaborated on the interior design book, “What Would You Do With This Room? My 10 Foolproof Commandments to Great Interior Design” by Mark Lewison and written by Sherri Houtz. He also co-developed the iPhone and iPod Touch virtual interior designer app, “Mark On Call”. He shares the latest beneficial and intriguing information from a variety of sectors (i.e. arts & entertainment, business, science and technology to name a few) on his personal “Friends With Strangers” blog.
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