That old song “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” (Roger Miller) comes to mind as I try to increase sales for my app, Tony’s Tips for iPhone Users, through the App Store. As an early developer I thought I could skate downhill, using the App Store’s own momentum as it grew (and pretty much that’s what I’ve done so far). But the roar I’m hearing is 3 billion app downloads in 18 months for more than 125,000 apps.
The App Store offers lists of the top paid and free apps in each category, and also lists the newest apps by release date, but unless your app is already successful and in the top paid or top free lists, its fleeting appearance in the list sorted by release date may only provide a short spike in sales.
The Release Date lists in each App Store category is the only list you have any control over. To game this system, some developers release updates often. These updates show up on the Release Date list, reaching more eyeballs. The problem with this trick is that Apple could change its policy overnight and not list minor updates in the Release Dates list. Even worse, customers might be irritated by frequent updates — it violates the first rule of marketing, which is to give your customers an overall better experience. And if you try to publish an “update” that is nothing more than a facelift, Apple might just reject it.
The Free Store (with Apologies to the Diggers)
A better method is to develop a free, or “lite” version of an app to draw attention to the paid version. Free apps are more likely to be downloaded because, duh, they’re free. And according to AdMob, upgrading from the lite version was the top reason given when users were asked what drives them to purchase a paid app.
Note, however, that the free “lite” version of your paid app must be a fully functional app, and can’t reference features that are not implemented or point users directly to the full paid version. What this means is that although you can publish a free “lite” app with fewer features than the paid version, the free version must be a complete app in its own right, and you can’t badger the free app’s users with reminders to upgrade to the paid version, nor can you use placeholders in your app’s interface for missing functionality that, when tapped, points users to the paid version. Tricks like these will get your free “lite” app rejected.
App Store Setup Tips
If you have properly categorized your app, it should appear in the proper category on the App Store Categories screen — in the Release Date list as soon as you release it. Attaching your app to the appropriate category is extremely important. Customers looking for a social networking app will go right to the Social Networking category to find the Top Paid, Top Free, and Release Date lists. Your new app may last a bit longer in the Release Date list of your category.
Some customers will take the time to tap the Search icon to search the store, and tap the entry field to bring up the on-screen keyboard. As they type a keyword you assigned to your new app, or something close to its name, your app should pop up right away as a suggestion. It is therefore important to use an appropriate name for your app (with terms that people might search for) and to assign appropriate keywords.
Developers also have In App Purchase at their disposal to offer their existing customers the opportunity to buy other apps, merchandise, game levels, premium features, e-books, and so on. You can’t sell real-world goods and services, only digital content, functionality, services, or subscriptions that work within your app. No intermediary currency is allowed (such as a virtual world’s currency), and no real gambling (although simulated gambling is OK).
You may also want to consider offering your customers an incentive, such as free deals through In App Purchasing, if they tell their friends about your app. Anyone browsing the App Store can tap the Tell a Friend button at the bottom of the app’s information screen to send the app information in an email.
Price Your App Right
The literature about marketing could probably fill all the Trump Towers in the world, but if you want to learn about marketing quickly, there are at least two apps for that. Marketing Master and MarketingProfs walk you through the basic concepts, and while you certainly could do better by enrolling at Wharton (where the first Marketing 101 course was taught in 1909), it’s a place to start.
One of the biggest lessons of Marketing 101 is to determine your target audience for your product. Assemble as much information about your target customer as possible — demographics, education, income level, and so on — because this information will influence all of your marketing decisions from the messaging you write in your descriptions and ads, to the channels you use to distribute your message.
Another big lesson is to determine the cost of acquiring new customers. The simple math here is to divide all the dollars you spend in marketing per month by all the new dollars you receive each month in sales. Once you know this, it begs the question of how much you should be spending. To figure that out, you need to know how much your customers are worth to you — the lifetime value of your customer. The secret to increasing the lifetime value of your customer is to increase the quality of the customer experience, thereby encouraging repeat business. You are not in the iPhone app game to do just one app; you need to develop more apps and build a customer base that will be happy to buy them.
Keep in mind that iPhone users download approximately ten new apps a month, according to AdMob, and those who regularly download paid apps spend approximately $9 on an average of five paid downloads per month. More than 90 percent of iPhone users browse and search for apps directly on their mobile device instead of their computer — more or less an “impulse” buy. You need to attract the right people, not just anyone — potential customers are those that will understand the value of your app.
But at what price? Much has been written about iPhone app pricing strategies. At the beginning of this gold rush, pricing an app at $0.99 helped to get the app into the Top 100. But now, with over 125,000 apps, that’s no longer true. All good marketers know that price is never a good selling point; anyone can come along and be cheaper. A better approach is to determine the true value of the app. People will pay for quality (at least I hope they will) — and as more business apps become available, their prices will likely reflect their value.
The best approach is to check out similar apps, especially competing ones (if any). Remember how costly it is to acquire customers. Starting at a higher price gives you some room to offer discounted prices at different times, such as the “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” that follow Thanksgiving, or the start of the annual Apple Developer Conference.
Find a Way to Measure Success
The trouble with using any kind of technology to reach customers is the same, old or new: measuring the results. “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half,” said John Wanamaker, founder of the first department store in Philadelphia (one of the first department stores in the United States) in 1861.
One of the biggest problems facing the iPhone app marketer is that the App Store doesn’t tell you who your customers are. Sure, you know how many customers you have, and you also know from which countries, and how many of them have updated your app (if you provided an update). You even know how much they spent. What you don’t know, however, can hurt you. How can you possibly build relationships with customers you don’t know?
The vast majority of apps downloaded from the App Store are in use by less than five percent of users a month after downloading, according to Pinch Media. Just 20 percent of users return to run a free application one day after downloading. As time goes by, that decline continues, eventually settling below five percent after one month and nearing zero after three months. Category matters, too — games are used for longer periods than any other genre. Pinch Media found the long-term audience for the average app is just one percent of the total number of downloads.
So customer loyalty is hard to build — it is difficult to determine if a user’s positive experience with your app will translate into sales of your next app or your more expensive desktop app. There are no guarantees. You need to get as much data about your customers as you can find.
Apple releases daily sales reports in iTunes Connect, which you can view online or download, with the name of the app, how many were sold and in which country, and your profit. You can import these reports into any spreadsheet program, like Excel or iWorks Numbers. A number of desktop applications have appeared to download and graph this data for you. AppViz is a Mac application that can import the reports from the Web or from a downloaded file, and display charts of your daily, weekly, and monthly sales. AppFigures is a Web-based solution for tracking app sales that can download and graph your reports from iTunes Connect.
There are several analytics options for iPhone apps, if you are willing to compile the necessary code into your app. Pinch Analytics from Pinch Media is used in thousands of popular apps because it can track any action anywhere in your app. Armed with this information, you can fine-tune the user experience in your updates, and offer new features to try to catch usage drop-off as early as possible and retain more customers. You can also measure all types of revenue, from paid downloads and subscriptions to advertising and in-app purchases.
AdMob, recently acquired by Google, offers Analytics that works with your Web site to track customers that access pages on the site through your app. All you have to do is install a code snippet onto each page you want to analyze, and AdMob does the rest. When your app requests a page from your site, your server passes analytics-related data to AdMob, which processes your data and makes it available on analytics.admob.com. It can track the number of unique visitors and pages consumed on your site, and monitor user engagement metrics such as the length and depth of each visit.
Take a tip from Apple itself: put on a show. Publicity offers the biggest payoff in the short term, and the best way to get it is to pay an excellent PR firm. Good publicity can create a spike in sales that could be misleading, but if you’ve implemented other marketing campaigns to take advantage of it, sales could level out at a much higher rate that before the publicity hit. The best of the PR firms can help you with your entire marketing strategy.
But if you can’t afford that… Publicity stunts work well if received well by the public. Some of world’s most beloved annual events began their existence as cheap publicity stunts. In 1903, publisher Henri Desgrange started a bicycle road race as a publicity stunt to promote his newspaper, never imagining that the Tour de France would be going strong more than 100 years later. The Rose Bowl grew out of an 1890 stunt designed to promote Pasadena, Calif., the Miss America pageant began in 1921 as a publicity stunt to lure tourists to Atlantic City after Labor Day, and the Academy Awards began in 1929 as a cheap publicity stunt for the movie industry. As Lenny Bruce put it, “Publicity is stronger than sanity: given the right PR, armpit hair on female singers could become a national fetish.” (It did, about 15 years later.)
If you can generate publicity, be sure to have a demo on hand — something to titillate the public whether they have their iPhones in hand or not. Create a video on YouTube and link it to your press release. Offer a free “lite” version of your app and time its release to occur at the start of the publicity campaign. Leave no stone unturned in looking for promotional opportunities as part of the campaign. And make sure your demo works — a sacrifice to the demo gods can’t hurt. Or just keep repeating the mantra from the patron prophet of demos, Demosthenes: “Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.”