By 2018, less than 0.01% of all mobile apps out there will be commercially successful. That’s what Gartner says – and we’ve got no reason to doubt the forecast. With the proliferation of mobile app development tools & the rise of “citizen developer” initiative, building mobile software has never been easier. Code quality & application performance aside, the main reason why companies fail to crack the App Store and Google Play charts is poor marketing. If you have a brilliant idea for an app, you’d better forget about Rovio’s overnight success and spend some time (and dough!) on marketing.
Top Earners (iOS developers who generate at least $ 50 thousand in revenues – 12% of the App Store’s registered publishers) have $30 thousand as an average marketing budget and devote 14% of project time to promoting their project. In case you’re a startup & barely raised funding through Kickstarter, your app can still be a hit – as long as you choose the right marketing strategy. Here are some app marketing success stories that prove you can do more with less.
Marketing done right: top 5 app success stories
- Stay.com. Although building an application for Android first is not a major trend yet, that’s what the guys from Cutehacks did. Stay.com enables users to create personalized travel guides, store them on a smartphone and use the data offline. The app uses first-hand information provided by best baristas, chefs and media personalities from all over the world, so you can feel at home no matter what city you stay in – and save some money on roaming. Cutehacks spent nearly 6 months simultaneously developing the Android and iOS versions of Stay.com, and here’s what they learnt. First, you can’t ignore the Android look of an application. iOS-inspired layouts will probably alienate Android users – after all, the App Store and Google Play have totally different UX/UI policies. Although Cutehacks delivered a good-looking app that easily handled different Android resolutions, they received tons of negative reviews from devoted Androiders. Second, there’s memory and performance. Back in 2012 (and that’s when the Stay.com app was launched), the size of an Android application was device-dependent, so Cutehacks had to do some major re-coding. Finally, they found out Facebook APIs were unstable and poorly documented and spent quite a lot of time searching for developer tips on Quora and Stack Overflow. It sounds like everything Cutehacks did went wrong, but it’s far from being true. The guys successfully implemented the ACRA tool, enabling users to send failure reports every time the Stay.com crashed. They also used Trello to enhance project management (and poor management is the reason why approximately 30% of all IT projects fail). But what makes their story worth citing is the timely changes they made to Stay.com once they discovered users weren’t happy with the current Android version. If you want to succeed, you should pay attention to user feedback – and follow the App Store/Google Play developer guidelines, of course;
- Languages. Jeremy Olson, a tech-savvy college student from North California, launched the Languages translation app back in 2013. He was no stranger to mobile software development: his Grades app (enables students to track their grades throughout a semester) generated favorable reviews from both tech experts and general public. However, Grades didn’t bring any money, so Jeremy went for a more commercial project. The demand for translation application was – and still is! – really huge, so it was an easy option. Besides, there was no affordable translation application that worked offline on the market back then (takeaway #1: consider timing & demand for your product). Jeremy’s team went a long way to validate the app idea, determine desirable functionality and create great UX. However, the very first thing they did was define customer personas. Jeremy and his confederates were quite familiar with the translation experience, so they didn’t have to talk to potential users in person (although that’s how Zappos’ founder validated his business idea). A customer (or buyer) persona is a purely fictional character who possesses characteristics of your target audience. Olson chose several factors that influenced a person’s decision to purchase the program, including his age, occupation, language proficiency and the environment where Languages would come in handy. The team created three detailed personas, thus covering the majority of key characteristics of their target market. Creating a buyer’s persona is a key success factor to launching & promoting a mobile app – and most marketers still keep personas in a closet for whatever reason or simply don’t know how to use them;
- Flappy Bird. The viral game hit iTunes in 2013, but it wasn’t until early 2014 when the app gained immense popularity. Dong Nguyen, a Vietnam-based independent developer who built Flappy Bird over a couple of days, said he managed to achieve the so-called virality through addictive gameplay. However, some tech experts (including Michael Silverwood of VentureBeat) believe it wasn’t the case. In order to understand how the game topped the App Store chart in the first place, we need to get a better insight into Apple’s ranking algorithms. There are several factors that influence an application’s chart position, including the number of installs received for the past few days/hours, reviews and retention. Instead of spending huge money on user acquisition, GEARS Studios decided to focus on reviews. By the time Flappy Birds reached #1 on iTunes, it was getting over 400 reviews per day. It went on to receive 700 thousand reviews in a couple of months, and that’s almost 200% more than Candy Crush got after a year. It looks like GEARS implemented a “dark pattern” – a rate button displayed every time a user ended a game session and wanted to start anew. The button was located a place where the play button would normally be; users tapped it by chance and were transferred to the App Store rate page instead. Pretty soon writing reviews of Flappy Birds became a trend, so GEARS Studios simply removed the button with another application update. We do not encourage you to trick app users. The lesson to be learnt here is that application chart performance is not always determined by the number of downloads;
- Clash of Clans. Coming up with a great & 100% unique idea for an app surely increases your chances of success – but there’s nothing wrong with being a little cliché, too! There are hundreds of strategy games out there – with heroes, monsters, fairies and precious stones. Supercell, a previously unknown mobile software development company from Finland, decided not to reinvent the wheel and… simply built another one. In 2013 Clash of Clans was reportedly generating $ 4 million in daily revenues through in-app purchases – a lot more than an average freemium has ever earned. Supercell surely did their best to create beautiful layouts and addictive gameplay. Yet, it’s the right choice of app monetization tools that made Clash of Clans an instant hit. Basically, the game is all about monetization, but Supercell tactfully keeps it under the pushy line, so users who cannot (or don’t want to) spare a few bucks on virtual currency can still enjoy the game – they simply wait for another level-up a little longer. Once you download the game, you enter the tutorial stage and receive tons of gems for free. You spend the gems on upgrades, gold and magic elixir that protects you against goblins’ attacks. Everything is really cheap, so you keep on spending and go broke pretty soon. As the gameplay evolves, the prices skyrocket, and your buying behavior has already been formed! There were Clash of Clans users who spend up to $ 20 thousand on precious stones when the game was in its prime. The viral application maintained its top-grossing status throughout 2015 and beyond; in the ever-changing world of mobile applications, longevity is hard to achieve. In case you want to replicate Supercell’s success, make sure to develop a solid and well-thought-out monetization strategy;
- CheckPoints and List Bliss. Todd and Mark DiPaola, the founders of inMarket, believe building a mobile app is similar to building a house: before you start, you should “put some time into thinking about what the rooms are going to look like”. The CheckPoints shopping app enables users to check in in almost any store nationwide and get instant rewards like digital coupons and discounts. The inMarket network now has over 46 million users; back in 00’s when the CheckPoints was at an early development stage Todd and Mark were struggling to decide on the app’s functionality. With List Bliss, they kept it simple. The app allows users to easily create shopping lists by scanning barcodes for different products and share the list with family and friends to check nothing’s missing. InMarket kept the set of application features focused and easily fixed the bugs at launch. We all know Feature Creep kills an app’s performance; you’ll be surprised to learn it has similar effect on marketing. A good marketing campaign should clearly (but briefly) outline the benefits of a product and deliver the message to target audience using as few words as possible. After all, a “fresh” smartphone holder doesn’t even know he needs a better shopping list. How on earth are you going to market your arguably cool & sexy app stuffed with features when you basically have 10 seconds to win users’ attention? Avoiding Feature Creep is a key factor to planning (and launching) a successful marketing campaign.