Marketing Mobile Apps

Let’s say you are a marketer who read Eric Bader’s excellent column “Do I Need an App or a Mobile Web Site?” You decided that a mobile application helps solve a business or marketing challenge for you, so you took the plunge and built a mobile application. Now what?

You’re about to discover the mobile application marketplace is not a field of dreams. With 50,000 applications in Apple’s iTunes App Store, you will to need to do something so consumers can find your product in this space. If you elect to build a BlackBerry, Android, or Windows Mobile application, the marketplace won’t be quite as crowded, but you will still need to find a way to reach people.

As the number of mobile applications available to consumers grows and apps are no longer a novelty, it’s getting more difficult to stand out. Simply launching one won’t get mentions in the trades or consumer press; you’ll need to put some work into getting noticed.

The best time to think about how your consumers will find your application is before you build it. Like any other element of your marketing plan, you should have goals for your application and then measure how your app performed against those goals. Get this conversation started before your application is built because what you want your app to accomplish and how you measure it could impact how it is built.

There are many reasons to build a mobile application, such as retaining customers. Retention-oriented applications are developed by various service providers to give customers another means to use their services. Examples include applications offered by various banks, such as Citi and Bank of America. While these applications are very useful to these institutions’ existing costumers, they don’t provide any value to noncustomers. So a media campaign to drive people to directly download such an app probably won’t be successful. However, featuring the application as a point of differentiation in an overall ad campaign across media is smart. Featuring the application in customer communications would be key. Link to it on your Web site. Mention it in your direct mail pieces to customers, and send an announcement to your e-mail list. If you have a social media page, mention it there and include the link. All of these things will help.

If your application has more general utility and is about acquiring new customers either through enhancing your brand awareness or communicating some brand attribute through utility, then a paid media push will be necessary. The first question is identifying whom you want to download it. This is a big decision because it will impact how your media campaign takes shape. If you choose to focus your media on only a demographic target, your media costs will increase significantly. Of course, untargeted media means you may end up with a base of application users who aren’t the same as the customers who traditionally buy your product. This is particularly true for consumer packaged goods that have traditionally targeted females. You’ll need to decide if you want to make that tradeoff.

You’ll also need to think about the measurement problem. It isn’t possible to simply use a third-party ad-server such as Atlas or DoubleClick to track downloads in any of the major application marketplaces. You may need to incorporate ad network pixels into your app. Or you may need to think about other means of tracking downloads. In addition, you’ll need to think about measurement beyond just the download. And once the application is downloaded, do consumers like it? Did it reach your intended audience? Does it change their perception about your brand in the way that you wanted?

Thinking about these challenges before your application launches will help you get started on the right foot and get the most of out of your campaign. Happy app-ing!

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