The insiders guide to mobile app promotion: top tips for marketing your app from industry experts

The unpalatable truth is that app stores are dominated by apps from a handful of developers (Canalys, Distimo) with big marketing budgets, while the vast majority of apps disappear straight into obscurity without anyone noticing. But don’t despair. The experts say that with an excellent app, meeting a consumer/business need, coupled with a well-executed marketing strategy, newcomers stand a fair chance of achieving awareness, downloads and retention (being used more than once); and could even make money.
Like any other business initiative, the marketing and promotional strategy needs to be in place long before development of the app starts. Any company that takes a build-it-and-they-will-come attitude to app development is almost certainly doomed to failure. Research by VisionMobile (January 2013) finds that the majority (67 percent) of developers earn less than US$500 per app per month.
The following tips for promoting your apps were provided by experts who presented at the mobile app promotion summit: Mobile App Promotion Summit in London, UK, July 2013.
• Ouriel Ohayon, Appsfire (OO);
• James Kaye, Dimoso and (JK);
• Mick Rigby, Yodel Mobile (MR);
• Chris Hanage, PapayaMobile/AppFlood, (CH);
• James Cooper, (JC).

The next Mobile App Promotion Summit takes place in London, UK, July 10, 2014. mobiThinking readers can save 20 percent with discount code “1APSMT.

1) Why, who, how, where, what and when of app development

Why – before investing a penny on a mobile app, consider what you want to achieve and how a mobile app can help you to attain these goals. Is the aim to: a) expand the company’s reach, by finding new customers; b) engage with existing customers by mobile; c) increase brand loyalty; d) sell products to customers via mobile; e) make money via advertising or selling the app?
What – what exactly will the app do and what evidence do you have there is a real demand for it?
Who – identify your target audience: what sort of app will they find irresistible; how/where will you reach them; how can you persuade them to download; how you will keep their appeal, so they keep coming back to use the app time and again (or at least persuade them not to delete the app after the initial inspection)? Will they be prepared to pay to download the app – note 90 percent of apps downloaded in 2013 will be free, estimates Gartner (September 2012) –; will they make in-app purchases or will this be an attractive audience to advertisers? If not, how are you going to make money?
How (much) – consider how you will measure return on investment (ROI). How much will the app really cost to develop, promote and maintain and how will the app recoup this investment? Does the app need to deliver revenue directly, by selling the app or by selling products through the app; or will it deliver revenue indirectly through offline sales, media coverage and brand awareness? Note: user retention is key to delivering ROI.
Where – mature markets such as the US and the UK have higher smartphone penetration (approximately 50 percent) and higher app usage, but app stores are also more saturated with apps and the costs of promoting the app are considerably higher.
What (platforms) – developing apps for native platforms is a costly business. Decide whether you should develop each in the native language for each type of smartphone – Android, iOS (Apple), BlackBerry, Microsoft – or write a Web app or hybrid app that can be more easily ported to each platform. Establish which types of smartphone do your target customers use, assuming they actually use a smartphone – device detection software on your Web/mobile site will establish this. Consider the advantages of each platform: Android has the largest market share, by far, with 68 percent of sales in 2012 Gartner, but there are numerous variants of this operating system; iOS has the most crowded app store compared to the number of users; BlackBerry and Microsoft have less market share, but there are also far fewer apps to compete with in the app stores and for the users and the vendors’ attention – Canalys (May 2013) estimates that there are 145,000 apps in the Windows store and 120,000 BB10 apps in the BlackBerry store compared to 800,000 in each the Apple and Google stores.
When – timing is everything. Timing isn’t just about gaining first mover advantage, but also picking the right time of year both for the type of app and avoiding periods when too many new apps are competing for attention. The promotional campaign should be ready to kick off before launch. Remember that with iOS, it can take a considerable amount of time to get your app approved.
• This process will help to decide what app is appropriate – perhaps if an app is appropriate at all – and will determine how the app should be developed, and how, to who and where the app should be marketed and what channels should be used to promote it.
Contributors: MR; CH.

2) Assess the competition

With so many apps available – over 1.6 million shared across the Apple and Google stores, according to Canalys (May 2013) – it’s highly likely that whatever kind of app you plan to build, there will be tough competition. It is essential that you study and benchmark the apps with which you will have to compete:
• How well established are these apps? How many users do they have? Is this just about a high number of downloads or are these active users? How long did it take and how much has it cost the publisher to reach this point?
• How well-known is the brand/company behind each app? How deep are its pockets? Can you compete with its reach or marketing budgets?
• What are the pros and cons of each app? What makes them a winner or loser with the user? What makes them popular or not?
• Establish how they have been promoted – is the app appealing to the company’s existing customer base or relying on winning new customers? What channels are used to promote the apps: their existing channels e.g. Website, other apps in the portfolio, email or SMS subscribers; or paid-for media, if so which – mobile ads, paid search?
• Ascertain how and if the rival apps deliver ROI. Are the companies trying to make money via the app, if so, how is this done? Or are there other reasons for releasing the app – e.g. loyalty, experimentation? Are they a success or failure?
• Learn from your competitors’ success/failure. What can you do better? Is it realistic to assume that you can beat them?
Contributors: CH.

3) Build a quality app

In a sea of mediocre apps, quality apps stand out. Successful apps are a pleasure to behold and use – they look great and function well. Apps should be intuitive and maximize user experience, while minimizing battery drain and data usage, both common issues with native apps. They fulfill a need for the target user and drive repeat usage.
• A quality app – assuming it is something special – should grab the attention of Google, Apple, BlackBerry, Microsoft (remember, vendors love apps that show off the power and features of their respective platforms), and any app that gets featured on the app stores should milk the rewards.
• Similarly, an outstanding app, that makes a genuine difference, may actually persuade the media – who are bombarded with hundreds of review requests a day – to take notice.
• Finally, quality means that you will achieve good app store reviews. A bad app simply receives one-star reviews and fades away as quickly as it arrived.
Contributors: JK.

4) Build marketing into the app

• Build mechanisms that make it easy for users to share the app with friends, and incentivize users to do so. Develop feedback systems that people will actually want to use – N.B. email “contact us” forms are a total turn off – that encourage interaction and enable people to suggest improvements.
• Don’t forget to include a Help section and provide contact details.
Provide facilities to opt-in to alerts to receive offers and updates.
• Build in mechanisms to track usage – this will highlight which parts of the app work well and are popular and those that don’t work properly or fail to interest, and thus help to dictate further development.
• Integrate tools that can measure advertising performance, assuming you plan to buy media, so you can assess ROI and tweak campaigns according to success rates (see below).
• Build in a long-term retention strategy. An app that retains half its audience beyond the initial download should be considered a success – many apps end up deleted or unused after the first inspection. But long-term success requires incentivizing users to keep coming back weeks and months after downloading the app. Keep refreshing the app with compelling content and new features. For example a mobile game app will offer a free level each month or a retailer will include weekly offers for online or in-store purchase, rewards or repeat buy discounts.
According to statistics from Flurry (October 2012), 54 percent of apps are retained for one month, 43 percent for two months and 35 percent three months.
Contributors: OO; CH.

5) Be realistic about the promotional budget

The holy grail for developers is to hit the list of Top 10 apps – where your app becomes visible to app store users – but achieving this requires huge numbers of downloads.
• Calculations by TradeMob suggest that to achieve a Top 10 ranking requires 80,000 downloads in the US, 26,000 in the UK, 15,000 in Germany…. and most of those downloads need to come in the previous 24 hours. But this comes at a cost, estimated at an average US$1.20 per download in the US for a free app – that means it costs $96,000 to hit the Top 10 in the US. At $0.85 per download in the UK, hitting the Top 10 will cost $22,100.
• Yet, a recent survey by AppFlood of 1,000 developers shows that the majority of developers are seriously underestimating the cost of promotion: 78 percent had only budgeted $5,000 on promoting their apps. The same report finds, unsurprisingly, that the majority of developers, big and small express frustration with app distribution.
• App publishers without huge budgets, need to be creative with their promotional campaign. Companies should use their own channels, e.g. Website/mobile site, email subscribers, social media, and use cross-promotional tools, such as AppFlood, and do their own media targeting (see below).
• Be under no illusion, if you want to hit the big time, you need to dig deep, be incredibly resourceful and/or be very patient – success can take months or even years. Plan for the long-term: aim to retain existing users (see above) while also winning new ones. The great thing about mobile apps is that you can update them, change the icon, refresh the app description, and other forms of app store search optimization, change the price, offer new incentives and keep trying out new things until you get the mix right. This also ties into consumers expectations that apps will be supported and updated with new features and content, as long as they want to use it.
Contributors: CH; JC.

6) Creating hype

Creating demand for your app requires a well-orchestrated media campaign, securing reviews, news articles, reviews and other publicity.
• Timing is key: Kick off the promotional campaign a few weeks before the app release date. Aim to create anticipation in the same way movies do using teasers. Get early coverage. Create a desire to download. Set up an early registration page. Use incentives/rewards, e.g. share the news: be the first to download; as a valued customer, you download first.
• Create a promo video. Issue it in the run up to the release date. Keep it short (60 seconds). Demonstrate who the app is for, what it does, why it must be downloaded, and when and where it is available. A well-crafted video will help convince reviewers of your credibility as well as helping win customers.
• Research the relevant media – target journalists, bloggers, video reviewers and other influencers (e.g. people with 1,000s of Twitter followers) pre-release who are interested in this subject and might want to review or write about your app. Done properly it can be very time consuming. The pitch is critical. Keep it concise and to the point. Accurately explain why the app is relevant to this audience. A good video is critical to success. Ask them if they would like a pre-release promo code (for Apple) or build (for Android) to review the app under nondisclosure agreement until launch. Remember media are plagued by app review requests/press releases (many of them irrelevant), so if you don’t hear back they are probably not interested – don’t bug them. You need target a large number of relevant media to ensure sufficient coverage. With iOS apps, ensure that you gain approval long before the intended launch; when approved, set the live date for six months ahead, or however long you need to get reviews. Apple provides 50 promo codes that enable a reviewer to download the app in advance (and for free, if a paid app). With Android, you need to send the game build/APK file to the reviewer. There is a piracy/security risk associated with this, so only sent it to trusted reviewers. Alternatively use a service such as Testflight, which app developers use when they want pre-release apps (iOS and Android) to be tested by peers.
Contributors: JK; OO.

7) Due diligence on paid media

Mobile marketing offers a cornucopia of options for promoting your app: search advertising; mobile Web display ads; in-app ads; rich media/banner ads; affiliates; SMS/MMS; mobile email, QR codes on print or billboard ads; as well as app-specific services such as discovery apps, including Appsfire and free-app-a-day services. This infographic from Mobyaffiliates illustrates the array of options. There is also a bewildering array of agencies, networks and service providers that can fulfill those requirements with a varying degree of success.
• Do your homework; be prepared to test a number of different activities; and be prepared to fail before you hit your sweet spot. Don’t assume big is best; some of the best converting traffic can be found on the newer, smaller mobile ad networks that are experimenting with new ad formats such as interstitials and offer walls, and more innovative payment models, such as pay per download, pay per acquisition. There are also plenty of networks specializing in particular geography, demographic or publishers, for example Latin America. See mobiThinking’s Guide to mobile ad networks or Mobiaffiliate’s Directory of mobile app resources.
• Only buy good quality traffic. Interrogate your providers: find out where the audience is coming from (territory, platform, demographic, publishers etc) and get them to commit to deliver your target audience.
Avoid buy “cheap” downloads or “guaranteed” top rankings that will disappear in 48 hours.
• Make sure you/your agency doesn’t break any rules – work out app store policy on incentivized traffic or top-rank guarantees.
Contributors: MR; JC; OO.

8) Track your promotional activity

There are some excellent third-party tools available to advertisers that enable the tracking of an event, such as download or in-app registration or purchase, back to the source, whether that was a banner clicked on an affiliate site/app or any other marketing activity. The ability to marry up these activities, allows advertisers to optimize mobile marketing campaigns to those solutions, networks and publishers that are generating conversions and tweak or drop those that aren’t.
Contributors: MR.

9) Employ mobile experts/work with mobile specialist agencies

These days everyone with a smartphone thinks they are a mobile expert. However, as an advertising and media channel, mobile really does have some very specific elements to it. Companies that are investing in mobile need to work with mobile specialists, preferably they need to employ a mobile expert as well as using agencies with proven mobile track record. A lot of media agencies, for example, are buying mobile ads, but won’t have the same level of skill in finding the right sources, tracking conversions and optimizing spend as an agency that only buys mobile. Similarly, a PR company might know how to put out a press release, but does it know how to craft a story around your app that will get it picked up by the tech press or mobile app review sites? It really pays to look for agencies, networks and partners that really understand the ins-and-outs of the mobile platform.
Contributors: JC.


Ouriel Ohayon, CEO and co-founder of France-based Appsfire, a mobile app-based discovery and promotion service, which has been downloaded 10 million times (OO).

James Kaye, co-founder Dimoso, a marketing communications agency focused on digital, mobile and social, and, a site that helps app publishers promote their apps to journalists and reviewers. See his Top 10 tips for app store success presentation (JK).

Mick Rigby, founder and managing director, Yodel Mobile, a UK-based mobile agency, with clients that include The Wall Street Journal, The Economist and ITV (MR).

Chris Hanage, general manager Europe, PapayaMobile, which runs AppFlood, a mobile ad exchange that allows app publishers to cross-promote add to non-incentivized traffic in order to grow their users for free (CH).

James Cooper, founder of, a B2B marketplace for the mobile app business, and one of the organizers of Mobile App Promotion Summit (JC).

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