Getting Started With App Marketing
Marketing is about making change happen, and marketing an app is no different. Say you’re building an app that solves a problem for people. Your marketing is now focused on helping people make the leap from an old situation to a new one.
In some circles, marketing has gotten a bad rap. We associate it with sleazy, hard-selling, annoying people who want to sell us something we’re not interested in. The marketing we’ll discuss today is different.
Some people, developers and technocrats in particular, consider marketing unnecessary. They believe that great products market themselves, because it’s only “logical” to buy product X that solves a problem Y you have. If that line of thinking is familiar to you, keep on reading…
The fundamental principles of marketing apply to marketing apps too, but the strategies and tactics we use are completely different. And it’s easy to get lost in the details of App Store Optimization, or running ads, or optimizing your App Store screenshots. Where do you even start?
In this tutorial, we’ll discuss 3 important questions about app marketing. They are the foundation that you build your marketing upon. And if you answer these questions thoughtfully, they’ll provide insights into how you can market your app more effectively.
Ready? Let’s go.
What Are You Building?
The most successful apps solve a problem for a certain kind of person, in a certain way.
Let’s look at a few examples:
- Bear is a note-taking app for iPhone, iPad and Mac. It’s as simple as taking a pen and jotting down some thoughts in a paper notebook, and yet many people use Bear as their go-to note-taking tool. Why?
- Little Snitch is a tool that helps you keep track of your Mac’s networking requests – especially the sneaky ones, from malware and trackers. What kind of person is interested in that?
- Slumber is an app that helps you fall asleep. It features sleep meditations, bedtime stories, background music and ASMR sounds. How does an odd assortment of sleep inducing features garner an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars?
Every one of these apps solves a specific problem for a certain kind of person. They go beyond the usual “I need a quarter inch drill bit for a quarter inch hole” kind of marketing. Their marketing focuses on an experience – the solving of a problem – and not on the app itself.
The first step in marketing an app is understanding that you aren’t marketing an app. You’re helping people go from A to B, from problem to solution, from desire to experience.
The Slumber app could have easily been a 1990’s telemarketing CD set with sleep sounds. The creator of Little Snitch could have started a blog for privacy-conscious people. And the team behind Bear could – and still can – make a dozen tools to delight writers, poets, artists and note-takers alike.
It’s not about the app, but about the problem your app solves.
The Bear app organizes notes in a simple, insightful way. It’s a beautiful app too, because looks do matter. The kind of person that’s interested in Little Snitch cares about privacy and control. And Slumber’s odd assortment of features are exactly those that consistently put people to sleep.
Start your app marketing efforts by asking yourself what you’re building. Is it just an app, or something more? Be clear and honest about the problem your app solves. And if you’re not solving a problem, consider why someone would want or need your app.
Who’s It For?
A concept worth repeating: The most successful apps solve a problem for a certain kind of person, in a certain way.
The worst mistake you can make in marketing your app is attempting to build something that works for everyone. An app that appeals to everyone is likely to appeal to no one. It’s watered down and averaged out so much, that it’s impossible to create something remarkable.
Instead, your marketing gets super specific. It doesn’t matter if you call it “niche” or “Minimum Viable Audience” or “true fans” – the principle is the same. Build something for a certain kind of person. And that leads to the question: Who is it for?
It’s easy to organize people by demographics. It’s the marketing that’s done to 30-35 year old married white men who need a family car, but want something that looks and feels more like a sports car.
Doing the same for app marketing is the equivalent of killing a fly with a shotgun: it probably works, but you’re wasting 99% of energy and effort. A car company can afford to advertise to almost anyone, but you probably can’t.
The alternative is the other side of the spectrum. Being so specific that you’ll exclude the 99.999% of people your app is not for, and generously serve the 0.001% of people that benefit most from your app.
It’s not only easier to reach these people, but it’s also easier to build an app that perfectly matches their needs, wants and expectations. And as a marketer, you get to choose who your audience is.
One way to define your audience is by looking at psychographics. You use the activities, interests, opinions, attitudes, values and behaviors of people to paint a picture of your app’s audience. A few examples:
- Crest, a goal planning app, is for people who are goal-oriented, who value productivity, and who use apps to track their activities
- Tony’s Chocolonely is a chocolate bar brand for people who care about fairtrade products, and they’re more likely to be environment-conscious than not
- Minaal produces travel-friendly backpacks, and initially got traction in the digital nomad community before reaching a wider audience
A simple way to get started with psychographics is to complete the sentence: “People who like my app might also like …” Come up with a few dozen ideas about activities, interests, etc., and investigate them. Can you use them as stepping stones to define your own audience?
How Can You Reach Them?
This is where the rubber meets the road. You’ve decided what you’re going to build, and for whom you’re building it. The next step is to reach out to these people.
The hardest step is validating your assumptions about the app you’re building, and the audience it’s for. You’ll often discover that your ideas about your app need to change, or that your target audience isn’t such a great fit after all.
What’s important here is to keep iterating and to keep trying. Every experiment leads to insights and innovations.
Try out different value propositions and audiences until you find something that sticks. Listen to your audience, and build apps specifically for them – as opposed to building something and trying every audience until you’ve got a match.
A channel is a way for you to reach your audience. It’s an asset you build, and a way of communicating with the people who want to find out more about your app.
A few examples:
- Start an online blog or website about your app’s theme, like cooking, productivity or parenting
- Build an email list of subscribers who want to hear your latest recommendations about education, science or model trains
- Get found for particular search phrases in the App Store, like “fall asleep” or “get things done” or “knitting patterns”
It’s incredibly worthwhile to organize an audience in this way. It enables you do connect with people, to provide value, and to make relevant offers about apps you’re building.
A channel is often an asset you can own, much like a food cart on a busy shopping street. And once you’ve found your audience, you can build more, better apps for them.
A great way to get started is to simply ask yourself where people you want to reach hang out. Can you find a place where they already are? Go where your customers are already looking – and meet them there.
In a world where people are flooded with advertisements, offers and pitches, it’s tempting to grab a megaphone with the hope of being heard. But this only adds to the noise – and you’re likely to not reach anyone at all.
The opposite approach is to whisper instead. Be very specific about what you’re building, for whom you’re building it, and what channel you can use to connect with these people. You’re marketing for people who want to hear from you – who’ll gladly pay you money for the value your apps bring them.
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