How Does One Effectively Market An iPhone App?

Written by Reinder de Vries on February 14 2015 in App Marketing

How Does One Effectively Market An iPhone App?

Effectively marketing an iPhone app has nothing to do with the uniqueness of your idea, your marketing efforts or budget, the likeability and popularity of your brand, or even with how much 5-star reviews you have in the App Store.

Effectively Marketing An App Is Based On 2 Factors

Effectively marketing an app, according to me, is based on 2 factors:

  1. Solving a problem
  2. Enabling your customers to tell stories about your app

Let’s elaborate on that.

Your App MUST Solve A Problem

Most apps these days don’t really solve a problem, or fulfill a need. They just sit there dormant, in the App Store. Their authors try to get people to review their app, push app downloads from Facebook groups by bluntly asking “can you download my app?” and quietly wait until someone does so. They get a couple of downloads every day, but $ 5 per day is not much to live on and you can hardly call it a success.

Nobody downloads their apps, because they don’t solve an immediate problem. We’ll get to problem solving in a bit, but first: Why do people create these apps in the first place?


They do, because of the image above.

This is a screenshot from the Dutch iOS App Store, taken today. It shows us most popular apps, but I wouldn’t say these apps are really great. Yet we think that this is a representation of a good app, because what’s popular is what people pay for, and what people pay for must be good. Right?


Do users want yet another weather app? Or an app that shows them skiing tracks? There’s plenty of those. A mindfulness app? Oh my, when I think of how many mindfulness meditation apps the App Store has, I’d surely get a heart attack.

Unfortunately, indie app developers go on an on to create copies of apps that weren’t great in the first place. We get blinded by success stories like Flappy Bird, 2048 and Angry Birds and think that it is the real world when in fact it’s a facade of hype and optimism behind a mechanism that is broken. Nobody likes to be force-fed yet another kamasutra or fart app.

But, What About Uniqueness?

Then, we think: but what if we create a truly unique app, something that’s not seen before, our app must get real popular, right?

No, wrong.

Uniqueness is a dream, a culture from the early 2000’s, taught to us by the endless possibilities and abundance our current world gives us.

Nobody downloads your unique app if they don’t know about it!

You know what’s better than being unique? Being a secret. Not being known, and being worthwhile. Of course, it’s a secret when you don’t say to anybody that it was you who farted, but that’s not real beneficial or worthwhile to anyone, right?

No, true innovation is based on a secret, not on uniqueness. Secrets are all around us! It’s not true that every app is already invented. People encounter new problems every day, and the solution to these problems are hidden from sight – secrets – until someone discovers a way to deal with them.

Marketers often say that whenever your idea, pitch or brand is unique, remarkable, noteworthy, you get attention. That’s not true. You get more attention when you are unique and new, compared to those that are dull and old – true. But when you’re truly unique, people won’t even recognize you, and their vision is blurred anyway by the consumerist Pepsi’s and fart apps of this world.

Word-Of-Mouth Is The Most Powerful Marketing Tool In The World

Why do you think social media is so popular these days? Is it because of all the cat pictures, or people’s drive to portray themselves as evergreen?


We’ve been social-media-ing since the dark ages. But then, we did it like this:

  • Light a fire
  • Get a rug
  • Do something magical with the rug
  • Smoke appears
  • Tribe at other side of mountain sees your smoke: “Hey hey batshit crazy, we caught a bear!”
  • They sent a Like back

Social media is just a form of communication, a way to tell stories. On Pinterest, we tell stories with moodboards and collages of cool stuff. On ProductHunt, we tell about great products. On Facebook, we brag about our latest accomplishments. On LinkedIn, we build our own networks of professionals (problem-solvers).

It’s all story-telling, really.

I can remember all the cool products I saw last week, just by recalling the story around it. I saw a traveller charger block for my iPhone, and I could relate to it because I travel a lot. I saw a product that allows easier app making, and I could relate to that because I’ve been hoping for such a tool to finally become succesful. On my blog, my post popular post is a story about how my MacBook broke in Thailand with a client deadline 3 hrs away and no repair store in sight. It’s not a great post, doesn’t really teach you anything, but it’s a hell of a story!

And how do stories spread?

Word of mouth, or story telling from person to person.

What Are You Doing To Enable Storytelling?

What makes a great story?

Let’s start with what doesn’t:

  1. Uniqueness. “Hey hear about this thing, it’s really unique!” Answer: “Oh yeah, get in line, we’re all unique these days”.
  2. Fun. “Hey this game is really fun!” Answer: “Oh yeah, looks like fun” – then minds more urgent business.
  3. Status. “Hey, look at this, it’s made by Paris Hilton and Tim Ferris and Oprah said its cool!” Answer: “Oh, boring, I see a ton of stuff each day like that HEY A SQUIRREL!”

This is what makes a great story.

You know, I’m an indie developer. I make apps for a living, and when I first started out I barely made any money. I could get by with whatever I made from freelancing and working for others, but that really ate up time I could spend on my own projects.

But then I found this app, “Indie Runway”. It basically told me how much money I had left in the bank, and how that many translated in time. It’s like a time bomb, but then more friendly: it told me how much runway I had left for my indie projects, before I would run out of money. It worked really well, like checking in on me asking about my spending and adjusting the runway projection.

Here, I have it on my phone. You’re an indie developer too, right? Did you ever come across such a neat tool? Best of all, it’s free. Here, I’ll put in your email address and you get a free copy of the app.



It makes a great story, because I told it as a person. It’s working for me.

And feel free to make such an app, there’s nothing like it out there.

Ten Steps To App Success

  1. Come up with an idea. Doesn’t matter what kind, as long as it’s not a shit idea, not already in the App Store, or poorly executed.
  2. Spend 8 hours fiddling with WordPress and create an app Landing Page. Don’t point out what features your app has, point out how it solves a problem. For real, forget the word “features”. Features are failures.
  3. Spend 8 hours making mockups of your apps with Teehan+Lax’s iPhone PSD files. Put the screenshots on your landing page.
  4. Rig up Gravity Forms with Stripe and create a checkout process. Put on the app page that you’ll accept limited (10 or 20) signups for the beta program, which is $ 97 USD. You’ll get to follow the process of building the app through a weekly newsletter email, and a monthly Skype/Hangouts check-in with the author (you!). Beta users will get a functioning app, that solves a problem, and in addition get personal time with you and learn something about publishing in the process. That’s a lot of value for 100 bucks.
  5. Set up a Facebook ad to your landing page, mention you’re looking for exclusive beta testers. Let it run for $ 10–20 a week, and adjust the ad over time to get a greater conversion.
  6. Tell all your friends, family etc. about your app endeavors.
  7. Make sure that anyone who goes to your site, either gets converted to a paid beta user or has the option to TELL A FRIEND. I can’t stress this more, everyone’s apparently forgotten about this great function from the 90s: Tell A Friend! Let beta signups share their achievement via a social share button, or let people endorse your project by sharing to their social media profile. STIMULATE REFERALS! Biggest take-away from this entire read, really!
  8. Get in touch with your beta customer base. Ask everyone what they think about your idea, survey them about future options. Create one or two additions or changes to your app, those that your paid customers ask for.
  9. You now have 10 or 20 paying beta users, which is a validation of your idea and of your entrepreneurship. Don’t have 10 beta users? Quit or pivot. Pivoting means changing and trying again.
  10. Create the app. Hire someone to do it for you, or learn to make apps yourself. Anyone can learn how to make apps in 2 months. Commit yourself, be dedicated, you don’t become a millionaire with half-assing it.
  11. Keep your beta users updated on each step of the process. Tell a story! I don’t care what it is: your cat sat on your keyboard and deleted the app, your grandma has an app idea too, anything. Make it cool, make it likeable, make it shareable. Make it real: you’re person, you’re telling your story.
  12. Publish the app, get feedback from your followers. Listen to them, that’s what they paid you for.
  13. Adjust the app, according to feedback.
  14. REPEAT!

Summary: Tell a Story, Validate, Create, Iterate.

Run the ads, tell the stories, and make sure anything you produce can be shared as a story. Then validate, iterate, and repeat.

That is, dear people, the truly effective and only way to market an app.

Originally appeared on Quora

Reinder de Vries

Reinder de Vries

Reinder de Vries is a professional iOS developer. He teaches app developers how to build their own apps at Since 2009 he has developed a few dozen apps for iOS, worked for global brands and lead development at several startups. When he’s not coding, he enjoys strong espresso and traveling.