By Todd Bernhard updated on 09/19/2013
As a developer of award-winning, bestselling apps with 6 million-plus downloads, I am often asked by other app developers how they should market their apps. While I've written a whole ebook/app, App Success, on the subject, and delivered countless presentations as well, an email from the Mapp Company arrived the other day that made me contemplate some of the worst ways to market your app.
Physicians are told to "do no harm," which is to say that the cure shouldn't make the patient worse than when he came in. That's also the modus operandi of choosing a vice president; while the goal is to increase your voter base, your choice shouldn't end up costing you votes.
When marketing your app, the worst thing you can do is make your sales dry up when you are trying to increase them. So don't do something that's against Apple's rules. Specifically, do not pay people for App Store reviews. That will get your developer account suspended and all your apps removed. Fake reviews hurt legitimate app developers and unwitting customers, and are the scourge of the App Store. Any business that takes money for guaranteed reviews is only guaranteeing that your time on the App Store will be limited.
Now, if you really want to do a lousy job of marketing, be sure to hire a writer who isn't a native English speaker. I'm sorry if English isn't your primary language. I know I would be terrible at writing press releases in French, and I studied French for years! The reality is that the US App Store is the dominant app store, and the US media is where you want to get coverage. If your email is full of poor grammar, it will show an attention to detail that is lacking. If you are marketing your email services, as the Mapp Company did, the English in your email and on your website had better be top notch.
Next, if you really want to hurt your chances, send out impersonalized bulk emails... and be sure that the recipients are competitors! This happens all the time. As an app reviewer, I get 100-plus emails every day asking me to review apps. Often, the sender will send a generic email not only to me, but to 100 other app reviewers, with all of their addresses included in the To: line. Once again, not a lot of attention to detail, right?
First, this practice shows that the sender didn't take the time to determine if the product was the kind I usually write about. For example, I'll get review requests for Android apps despite writing for iPhone Life Magazine. Second, it shows that I'm not special, despite what my mom says, given that the same email is going to hundreds of others, including my magazine's competitors. What incentive do I have to be one of 100 writers all writing pretty much the same thing? I want to cover something unique,that competitors may not have noticed or that I can take a unique angle on.
There's a saying: "The key to success is sincerity. If you can fake that, you've got it made!"
With today's email technology, it's really not that hard to send mass emails that appear to be personal. At the very least, use a Bcc so that all the recipients don't see each other's email address in the To: field. But you can use tools like MailChimp or Constant Contact to create one email that is sent to multiple recipients, one at a time. Better yet, find an email tool that personalizes each email to include the recipient's name within the subject and the body.
But the best solution, which has worked well for me as a developer, is to seek out journalists who regularly write about apps in your field. Send them a personal, one-to-one email introducing yourself, commending them for their work, and requesting feedback about your app. Don't ask for a review. That can come later. Establish a connection and show them that you specifically sought them out and are not sending out mass mailings. Show them you value their feedback and your willingness to incorporate that feedback into the app. A lot of reviewers are wannabe developers who are longing for an app that meets their needs. You can be the bridge to that app. If you get their feedback and incorporate it, and you develop a rapport, then you can ask for a review.
Finally, if you've committed all of the mistakes I have mentioned, and are confronted, be sure not to apologize and instead insult the person who is pointing it out. Extra points if you haven't googled the recipient to realize how off base the insult is. That's what Mapps did when I explained that what they were doing was problematic.
I'll be incorporating this example into my "App Store Success" and "Full Court Press" presentations. My next speaking engagement is at the App Developers Conference in Los Angeles in early November. I hope to see you there! In the meantime, I'd love to read your suggestions and observations in the comments below.