So your app was approved by Apple, it's for sale on the App Store, and sales are… slow or non-existent. Now what? With over 120,000 titles, your app isn't just going to sell itself. For an app to be successful, it not only has to stand out from the crowd, you need to get the word out.
Apple provides access to some basic materials but, unfortunately, doesn't do much else to help developers. Unless you are one of the lucky few apps picked by Apple to be featured in their commercials or placed in one it its "Top apps" lists, outstanding sales numbers are going to take some work—a lot of work!
Strategies of success
How do you do this? Well, the best place to get good advice is from successful marketers. I asked some developers of the top selling apps what it takes. Here's what they say about what you need to focus on:
"Press releases, pitches to bloggers, getting featured on the App Store homepage and in iPhone print/TV ads. Tell-a-Friend links within the app are a must."
—Ben Kazez, Flight Track Pro
—David Niemeijer, Proloquo2Go
"When our app was released, everyone was wondering how many units we were selling based on rank. I blogged about our sales-to-rank numbers and shared the story with members of the media. The sales numbers became a story, and the story propelled more sales. We also conducted an 'iFart for $5000' contest that invited people to make an iFart commercial in order to win a cash prize."
—Joel Comm, iFart
"The app must make people go, 'Wow!' all by itself—there is no better way to sell an app. With a great app, any marketing communications you produce will be backed by great word-of-mouth from users who were amazed by the application. This is how I do it, it's how Apple does it, and it's what landed me a spot in Apple's Share TV ad."
—Emanuele Vulcano, Mover
"The big thing we've learned is that there are now enough iPhone users that your application can grow simply by word of mouth. Focus on creating something that people can't resist showing their friends. This will be worth far more to you than any advertising."
—Jeffrey Powers, RedLaser
"Provide a simple message, and keep in mind that users will probably devote about 10 seconds to the decision to buy your product. Get the word out about products via press releases and contacting app review sites. Provide frequent updates."
—Rebekah Fugate, Recorder
"Communicate with your fans via social networking sites and forums. Hand out lots of promo codes to app reviewers. Create an interesting story with how the app appears in the App Store by changing our icon with each update."
—Dave & Allan, PocketGod
"Marketing for us is never an after thought—we vet marketing strategies before we green-light projects. We do our best to design marketing into the app and execute our strategies efficiently and actively when things go live. Examples of successful strategies: teaser videos, contests (for Ocarina, Leaf Trombone and I Am T-Pain), encouraging our user community to post user-generated YouTube videos, and teaming up with collaborators such as T-Pain and Antares."
—Ge Wang, Ocarina/I Am T-Pain
"We spent a lot of time researching and analyzing our customers' needs. Our focus has always been on enhancing the product, and this has become our best marketing tool. You need to listen carefully to your customers' feedback."
—YoonJeong Kang, AppBoxPro
"Having a Twitter account with followers is a pretty big advantage. Twitter is probably the most viral form of communications out there these days. Not everyone has access to the app store at all times, and the screenshots and description found there sometimes just aren't enough to sell your app in a compelling way. It's important to have an informative Web page with screenshots and a video of the app in action.
Getting noticed by big blogs is also important. The success of Weightbot has made it much easier to get in contact with writers/reviewers these days. But even without much of a track record, if you have a compelling app and are persistent, it's not too hard to get noticed. We focus on getting mentioned in some of the bigger blog sites, including Macrumors, The Unofficial Apple Weblog, Gizmodo, Ars Technica, and Daring Fireball. Being generous with your promo codes is also helpful."
—Mark Jardine, Convertbot / Weightbot
"Try cross-promotion among you apps. For example, users of our Mafia Wars game can get poker chips for our Live Poker game as a promotion for upgrading to the latest version of the Mafia Wars."
—Lisa Chan, Mafia Wars/Live Poker
"If you truly build a great app, it'll get out there and you'll make your money. We've found that grass root marketing is the best way to market on the App Store. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are great ways to get the word out about your app. They are also great ways to get feedback from your users so that you can continue to improve your app."
—Julie Crabill, F-MyLife
"Build a relationship with Apple and the press. Blog about your app, but make your posts more than hype-filled marketing pieces. You're not going to get any attention unless you say something meaningful. Writing about my success, failures, and thoughts as an iPhone developer helped me establish my credibility and build relationships with Apple and the press. If you're going to use social media, do it in a way that will get and hold people's attention. Each developer needs to adjust their strategy based on the individual dynamics of their own business and target market. Trying to emulate the success of others without understanding your own business is a recipe for disaster."
—David Barnard, Gas Cubby
"Standing out from the crowd is all about having that killer feature that makes your app unique and then publicizing the hell out of it. Even crowded genres can see brilliant innovation; getting that front and center is what drives consumers to purchase.
While it's definitely important to contact the tech media who focus on iPhone apps, it's also important to get outside of the app reviewing blog-o-sphere when pitching your apps. For example, if you have a gardening app, reach out to gardening blogs. The near-ubiquity of iPhones means that almost any audience will have a significant percentage of iPhone users."
—Brian Akaka, Appular
Your work is cut out for you
Most of my success has come from building relationships with bloggers and social media. Focus on establishing relationships with bloggers in your app category. Create a fan page on Facebook and establish a Twitter account. Your posts should include contest notices, product updates, "thank yous" to customers, and links to other content that your customers will find interesting. And most importantly, post demo videos of your apps on YouTube, Vimeo, Tumblr, and other video blogs. Don't focus on the features of your app. Focus on how your customer will benefit from your app, how it will make their life easier, and how they will not be able to live without it.
In the next part of this series, we will look at strategies that these successful developers suggest avoiding. If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to shoot me an e-mail at