If You Build It, They (Probably) Won’t Come

Why Every App Developer Needs a Mobile App Marketing Plan

In just a few short years, the Apple App Store, Android Market and other mobile carrier stores have created a new industry and a new form of media. Millions of smartphone and mobile device users log on to find new apps to provide them with entertainment, efficiency, cost savings and help navigating the complexities of everyday life. Thousands of app developers and app publishers have converged to meet this growing demand for apps, with many of these developers hoping to become the next “Angry Birds” style success story.

Unfortunately, the world of app development is not a simple game with a wide open playing field. Significant opportunities still exist to make money from apps, despite the lack of friction, but app developers who expect to simply upload their app to a marketplace, tell their friends about it on Facebook, and then watch the app go viral are likely to be sorely disappointed.

This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the app development world. Too many app developers are still enamored with the idea that it’s “easy” to get an app to the top of the App Store or other heavily trafficked marketplace. Many app developers think that as long as they have a quality product, the app will speak for itself and attract an online audience in the form of PR and word-of-mouth marketing on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

The truth is more complicated. The old “free PR” approach might have worked back in 2009, but the game has changed dramatically. There is more competition for apps than ever before, as more and more app developers start to dip their toes into the water and enter the various markets. And yet, even with the intensifying competition, the rewards tend to be biggest for the app developers at the top of the market, because the top 25 most popular apps take the largest percentage of App Store revenue.

So if you’re an app developer who is either new to the market or is looking to expand your existing business, what can you do to increase your app revenue and find a larger audience for your apps?

Here are several options to help app developers do more to monetize their apps with mobile advertising and related techniques:

  • Distribution networks: One of the best ways to promote an app is to an existing 3rd party app community.  Services like Free App A Day (FAAD), AppGratis, etc. will promote your app to their community leading to a large number of installs over a short period of time (typically 1-3 days). The goal of paying for promotion via a distribution network is that once your app gets into the top 25 of its category, word of mouth will take over and drive organic app installs (that you don’t have to pay for). There are a variety of models for these networks, including a one-time fee or a percentage of the increase in sales, so any developer who utilizes this method of app marketing must have a good understanding of their metrics to ensure the resulting revenue will cover the cost of the services, which can be substantial. A word of warning – before working with any distribution partner, make sure that their services comply with Apple’s terms and conditions. Be especially cautious with services that guarantee top 25 placement in the App Store.
  • CPC/CPM app advertising: When you are considering the best way to advertise your apps, keep in mind the difference between “Cost Per Click” (CPC) and “Cost Per Impression” (CPM) advertising. With CPC ads, you pay a fee to the advertising network every time someone clicks a link to your app. With CPM ads, you pay a fee based on the number of views or “impressions” your ad receives from the advertising platform’s audience. CPM rates are usually calculated in terms of cost per thousand impressions. Many app developers prefer to pay for advertising on a CPC basis, since they are receiving definite results in the form of clicks, rather than simply getting their app in front of a wider audience that might not choose to click through to see the app. Some of the popular advertising platforms for CPC and CPM advertising include Google’s AdmobJumptap, and Apple’s own iAds.
  • CPA advertising: The next evolution in online and mobile advertising is a move from “cost-per-click” to “cost-per-acquisition” or “CPA” advertising. CPA advertising is a form of advertising where you effectively pay a commission to the advertising network or advertising platform that brings you new users. For example, every time someone downloads your app, you would pay a fee to the network that delivered that new user to your page on the app marketplace. Examples of ad platforms that offer CPA advertising include Tapjoy.
  • Cross-promotion: Rather than relying solely on advertising or hoping to catch fire with free publicity, one of the most effective long-term ways to increase downloads and gain a wider audience for your app is to build your own network by cross-promoting your apps. This can be as simple as inviting your existing users to try a new app that you’re about to introduce. You can use simple house ads to advertise your own apps to your existing user base, and you can also form partnerships with other app developers to promote each other’s apps to your individual audiences. Cross-promotion is nothing new; it’s a tried-and-true form of marketing. But in the competitive world of app marketing, it helps to forge alliances and look for opportunities to help your partners, so they will help you as well.  There are a multitude of services available to help developers with cross-promotion.
  • Online promotion and social media: Just because it’s hard to have an overnight success based on social media alone doesn’t mean you should ignore social media. Every app developer has a built-in audience of friends, colleagues, family, Facebook and Twitter fans and followers. Start with the people who know you best. Ask them to try your app and tell their friends. Every time someone accesses your website, make it easy for them to download your app. Find like-minded audiences who are interested in the specific content or subject matter of your app, and invite them to try it. And, most of all, think about how you will integrate Facebook and Twitter into your application from a design perspective. There are many ways to take your app directly to your prospective users, without having to spend a lot of money.

The bottom line: app developers need to think “long term” about their app marketing efforts. A few short years ago, app developers could make big bucks with one-off “burst” campaigns to quickly launch a new app onto the scene and watch it take off. It’s more difficult now, but there are still plenty of lucrative opportunities for app developers who are prepared to put in the time and effort to build an audience for their apps, one click at a time.

What’s your take on this? What other forms of marketing should mobile app developers consider? Have you worked with any of the companies listed in this article? What was your experience
By Ryan Morel

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