Emerging TechnologyMobileStanding Out in the App Crowd

Standing Out in the App Crowd

Is it even possible to market apps so that they stand out? Or are marketers just wasting their time?

Let’s face it: there are a ton of apps out there – 400,000 for Android and another 600,000 for iPhone.

Many have a genuine business case behind them – to generate direct revenue from the sale of the app (like “Angry Birds”) or to create loyalty and support for an existing brand (think Comcast or Bank of America). Either way, the app gets budgeted, then created.

And then? Not much. Generally, the app just gets stuck in one of the major app stores and succeeds or languishes, with little rhyme or reason.

Is it even possible to market apps so that they stand out? Or are marketers just wasting their time?

The app stores are wonderfully convenient – when you know what you’re looking for. But if you don’t, things get challenging. It’s like being in the world’s largest grocery store without a shopping list or a floor plan; pretty quickly, consumers are going to resort to one of two things: they’ll grab what’s right in front of them or they’ll get frustrated and leave.

The “grab what’s in front of them” phenomenon is the dominant model in the app stores right now; an overwhelming majority of purchased apps are either on the best-seller list or are promoted by the stores themselves. And breaking into either of those categories is a tall order.

Analytics firm Distimo recently released iTunes App Store data that provides some perspective into what’s required to make it onto the top lists. In short: 138,400 daily downloads. That’s what it takes for free apps to make it into the top 25 in the U.S. store. Paid apps require lower numbers, but still need 3,530 downloads every day. Even within a category like (free) Lifestyle – where many marketers list their apps – you need 3,900 downloads per day to get on the top downloads list.

The results? Well, they’re hardly surprising: the rich get richer and the apps that make it onto the top lists tend to stay there. (Apple has recently fixed a bug that allowed app makers to use software to auto-download thousands of versions of their free app to sneak their way onto the lists.)

If breaking into the top lists is problematic, how about winning a zillion fans with one of those home page features in the Apple Store? As it turns out, that’s more art than science. At my company, we’ve had some success in lobbying Apple on behalf of our clients’ apps – but then again, we’ve also fallen short a few times. Your guess is as good as ours about the rationale behind such decisions – because Apple isn’t terribly forthcoming about its choices and basically programs the home page as it sees fit.

So yes, the App Store is the number one place for finding apps, but hoping for sales and planning to be featured in the iTunes store is not a viable strategy. Here are some better tips.

The App Stores Are Not the Only Channels

If customers in the app stores tend to pick from the short-tail top apps, what about those who get frustrated with the search process and look elsewhere? Sure, more than half of downloaded apps are discovered in the stores, but that leaves a healthy opportunity for marketing to the remainder. The data (below) provides the blueprint for how you can tailor your app marketing strategy.


Know Your Audience

The first step is to figure out who you’re trying to reach. We start our marketing efforts by creating an initial matrix of marketing targets. Here’s an example for marketing a game app:


This matrix provides a sense of what types of audience needs can be met from within the app stores – and which need outside influence. That balance will shift depending on the nature of the product.

The Social Network

Getting serious about marketing an app means leveraging users’ social graphs – nearly half of respondents rely on friends and family to help them pick apps, and the number is growing. From just a year earlier, social recommendations have grown over 30 percent, while more “authoritative” sources like carrier recommendations have shrunk by well over half. Here are just two ways in which marketers can make the most of this situation: provide opportunities for existing consumers to review and share their opinions about the app, and/or provide a value exchange to the customer for sharing the app across social networks.

Search and Ye Shall Find

A huge number of consumers leave the app stores to discover which apps they should download. Just search the web for “best iPad [or Android or iPhone] apps” and you’ll find a dizzying array of lists from every conceivable source detailing which are the apps to which you should devote precious real estate. Consumers like this kind of article, which is great for marketers because it means a broader variety of channels. It’s important when using this strategy to identify key influentials (such as bloggers) in a market. Don’t be afraid to provide these people with free codes for apps requiring purchase; they’ll pass the codes along to their readers, significantly building momentum for your app.

Make your app as visible as it can be to searchers by paying attention to your search engine optimization (SEO) scores; at my company, we score SEO based on traffic potential, site architecture, authority, relevancy, and shareability (see the social recommendations above). Understand the value of a name that somehow describes what the app does – for example, the hugely popular Draw Something is the name of an app that lets you…draw something. You can bet it wouldn’t be so popular if it had a more obscure name. The last search-related tip is to create a website for the app. Even a major brand like a cable network or a big bank should have a discrete site for an app that can provide a much higher degree of authority.

Get Their Attention

In all the excitement of making sure that your digital house is in order, don’t sell offline media short in its ability to influence online purchases. Real-world stunts and events are a great way to get press for an app launch. Remember, all of those blogs and media outlets are looking for something different to talk about, so an offline experience that feels credible can go a long way.

We’ve noticed a very common situation springing up around app development: people are spending a ton of money on development and next to nothing on marketing. Maybe it’s because folks are betting everything on that magical moment when Apple discovers them and makes them an app star overnight, but often enough the problem can be tracked to organizational silos within companies; in other words, the app is handed off to a technology group for design and development – and the marketing department doesn’t back the work with media dollars. So take a look to make sure that your different departments are working well together in pursuit of a common goal.

None of what I’ve been saying is worth anything if the app is of low quality, and creating a product worthy of creative marketing should be your first priority. And it goes without saying that nothing beats an app store promotion. But the hard truth is that most apps aren’t going to be featured in the app stores – and even if you’re one of the lucky ones to score a promotion, concerted marketing efforts will amplify the message and keep the buzz and momentum going long after the stores have moved on to the new thing.

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