How to Market and Promote your Games and Apps, Part 1/4
This is a post by iOS Tutorial Team Member Felipe Laso, an iOS developer working at Lextech Global Services. A while back, you guys said you wanted an article on “What to Do When Your App is Finished: Marketing and More.” And you’ve asked about it ever since! ;] Well, the good news is that […]
A while back, you guys said you wanted an article on “What to Do When Your App is Finished: Marketing and More.” And you’ve asked about it ever since! ;]
Well, the good news is that the wait is finally over! Welcome to our comprehensive four-part series covering iOS Marketing – from idea conception, to release, to post-release.
We’ve gathered together our own thoughts and advice on all of the most popular iOS marketing techniques in practice today. The goal of the series is to provide you with practical tips and advice you can use immediately to market your own apps on the App Store.
In addition to our own thoughts and advice, we have enlisted the advice from the entire community. A while back, we put up a detailed marketing survey on the site, and have received a ton of great feedback (over 50 responses!)
Quotes, statistics, and feedback from the surveys has been scattered throughout the series in order to give you a variety of perspectives and strategies to choose from. A huge thanks to everyone who answered the survey and shared their thoughts and tips – we really appreciate it, and we know everyone reading this article will as well!
Also, as a caveat up-front I should mention that marketing is not a magic bullet that will automatically result in tons of sales. The most important thing is to develop a good app.
And that comes with practice. As you keep making apps, the quality of what you produce will increase, and you will find all of these marketing techniques easier to execute upon, and more successful for you.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and talk marketing! :]
Before we begin, here’s what we’re going to cover in this four part series:
- Pre-Development and Development: What should you do before you even begin? What can you do while your game or app is in development, and when is it a good time to start hyping your app?
- Release: Your app or game is ready for the world to see, so where to begin marketing? Tips and techniques in order to catch people’s attention and stand out from the competition.
- Post Release: Your product has been in the market for a while. There are many things that can be done in order to attract new customers and extend the life of your app.
- Finale: Some interesting stats, useful resources shared by our excellent community of developers and final tips and comments for you.
The format of the series will be to go over some general tips for the project phase and then discuss each of the questions and topics asked in the survey. I will also try to share useful links, resources and use charts and graphs to help visualize the information we gathered from the community.
One final thing I wanted to mention is that marketing can be applied not just to Apps and Games, but to any framework, API, or other type of product you are developing. The concept is the same, the only difference is that your target isn’t the end user but the developer making the product.
With that in mind, let’s start by discuss an important step you should take before you even begin your project: vetting your idea!
Pre-Development Phase: The 4 W’s and 1 H!
Before you write even one line of code, there are five questions you should ask yourself about your idea – the Who, What, Why, When, and How – 4 W’s and 1 H!
- Who Will Use My App?
- What Is My Competition?
- Why Will My Product Be Unique?
- When Will I Get it Done?
- How Will People Interact with My App?
If you’ve already finished your app and want to jump straight to the development phase, you might want to skip this section and scroll down to the “Development” section.
Otherwise, let’s go over these questions one by one!
1) Who Will Use My App?
The first question you should ask is who is most likely to use and enjoy your app. This is important to know as early as possible, because it will help you figure out who to tailor your app for, in both features and marketing.
And I’ll give you a hint – the answer isn’t “everyone who owns an iPhone or iPad!”
It’s simply not practical to market your app the same for everyone. For example, if you make the next Infinity Blade, a 50 year old man or woman might not be as interested in playing it as much as a 20 year old. Therefore it would be most effective to target marketing with words, information and features that appeal to 20 year olds.
The target audience for marketing is not always the target of the product’s content. A children’s book has the content developed specifically for children, but the marketing is often targeted for the parent who will buy the book. This is because a 5 year old is highly unlikely to have access to purchase content on the App Store, so it’s the parent we have to sell the product to.
Once you know who is most likely to use those apps, you should try to get in touch with some of those kinds of people. Go to where they hang out and find a few to talk to. Ask them questions about what they like and don’t like about similar apps, and if they have any advice or feedback on your idea.
Web forums are a great way to do this. Most communities (whether cyclists, wine lovers, moms, or Cocos2D programmers) have web forums where they hang out. Join their community and listen to what they care about. Ask them questions and get involved! I’m sure you guys can think of some game tools programmers who have applied this strategy successfully.
This is an easy step to overlook, but it’s important. Your target audience might think very different than you would, so it’s critical to have their feedback. I cannot stress how many times I have failed to focus on my intended audience and wasted time implementing features they didn’t care about.
So always remember your audience! Maybe even take a picture of a typical member of your audience and put it on your wall!
2) What Is My Competition?
With the vast amount of apps and games on the App Store, it’s almost inevitable that someone else will have thought of your idea first.
But don’t worry, competition is good – it is a sign of a healthy market. You just need to learn from your competition, and make sure you do an even better job :]
So before you even write a single line of code you should do some research and take a look at what else is out there. Search for keywords related to your idea on the App Store, and look out for the following:
- Are there a lot of apps similar to what I have in mind?
- Which ones have the highest ratings? (read them to see what customers have to say)
- Does my app do something different or unique from others available?
- Is my app going to be good enough to distinguish itself from the competition?
- What’s the download size of similar apps?
- How are similar apps categorized?
- How is the App Store page of these apps?
- What screenshots are being used?
While it may seem like a bunch of items to look out for, in reality it’s what we generally do when shopping for ourselves.
If you are trying to make the next Angry Birds and the only thing that’s different is you use cats and mice instead of birds and pigs, you might want to rethink your game and give it more unique features. Maybe even try something different altogether and start from scratch.
The market is over saturated with similar/competing products so, unless you are bringing something new to the table (see the Why question), chances of success will be incredibly difficult regardless of what kind of marketing you do.
Focus on comparing app ratings and reading user reviews of similar products. As a tip I suggest you always take reviews with a grain of salt.
They might be from friends, family and the creators themselves trying to boost ratings or from silly users who give an unnecessarily low rating because the art style isn’t appealing to them.
If you see an app with a 4 or 4.5 star rating then pay extra attention to everything; from the description to the screenshots and user reviews. If possible download or buy the app to see how it works, you might get some ideas or improve upon those you already have thought out for your product.
Playing around with many apps is a great way to brainstorm and get ideas for your own projects.
As an analogy, think about how you can’t be a good cook unless you try different recipes and products. Similarly you cannot be a good developer unless you try different apps and extract the best of what each has to offer.
The size of your application might not be something that you think about during development but it’s something that can influence impulse buyers. If your app is over the 60 MB limit then users will not be able to download through the cellular network. You could be losing customers, albeit a small amount of them, due to this tiny detail.
Check out the App Store categories of competing apps. You might have an easier time getting users to find your product in the correct category and it could help it reach a higher position in the top charts.
Finally, analyze and gather ideas from the App Store page of similar apps. If they are doing well then take a look at how they described the product and its features, what screenshots they used, how is the icon design, etc.
All of these can add up to help you create a better product and, in turn, market it more successfully.
3) Why Will My Product Be Unique?
Having asked yourself the previous question, you should now be able to answer this without much trouble. After having researched, compared and experienced other apps you will be competing against, you’ll be able to answer how your product is unique.
Remember that it’s not about quantity here, it’s about quality and uniqueness. You don’t have to make an app with dozens of differentiating features; it’s better to do few things well than to create many lackluster features. The phrase “jack of all, master of none” comes to mind here.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to hear Mike Lee’s talk on Mariachi Product Engineering, this is exactly what we’re talking about here.
Every app needs a special “Mariachi Moment” that is a killer/distinguishing feature from everyone else, that delights customers and makes them want to recommend it to their friends. What is yours?
4) When Will I Get it Done?
Once you know what you want to do, you need to figure out how long it’s going to take you.
The longer an app takes to develop, the more it costs (in paying your living expenses if you’re an indie, or paying your team if you’re a studio). So the longer an app takes to finish, the riskier it becomes – it increases the amount your app will have to earn to be profitable.
As such, many developers have found small development lifecycles to work the best on the App Store – somewhere around 2-3 months. This way, you can get something out quickly and see how it does at a low risk.
If your idea takes longer than this amount of time to develop, you might want to consider cutting features to get to a smaller minimum viable product. This means cut out any features except what is absolutely necessary to get the core idea of your app out the door.
You might have heard of this before but remember to KISS. No, that doesn’t mean you should kiss me or anyone next to you (unless you’re a hot babe ;]) – it stands for Keep It Simple Stupid. Don’t overcomplicate your app or game, remember an app is best when it does one thing very well. Try to remain focused on the core features it should have and establish a realistic timeframe for the project.
You can get the first version out on the App Store and see how it does, building momentum and adding features based on direct feedback from customers. Not only will this help you release your project sooner but it will keep interest in your app high with new features and constant updates.
Also, don’t try to create the next Infinity Blade game or Flipboard app on your own. Realistic goals mean your app will see the light of day and having a solid estimated release date will help you with your marketing plans!
If you’re having trouble with time estimation or just getting the project done in general, you might want to consider looking into various software development methodologies such as Scrum, Agile, XP, etc.
Handy Link: The Pragmatic Programmers is a great series of books on many programming topics including software development methodologies. I personally recommend The Agile Samurai.
Use any software you like in order to gather your ideas and organize your project. There are great apps for iOS like ScrumPad, Merlin, or Agile Project Manager as well as OmniGraffle Pro and Merlin for OS X, to help you gather your thoughts, create use cases (know as user stories in Agile), establish time frames for each portion of your project, determine your velocity, burn rate, etc.
But remember: the most important part is to get it done, and ship your app! You’ll probably find a lot of resistance as you get to the last 10% of the project (the saying is the last 10% takes 90% of the time), but push through it.
As Steve Jobs himself said, Real Artists Ship!
5) How Will People Interact With My App?
This last question will, once again, be answered with easy having worked your way through the previous three. You have done your research, you have defined your target audience and identified the unique features of your app.
Now it’s time to take the best (and worst) from all you’ve learned from your research and brainstorming and put it to action in the form of your product. Start at a macro level and work your way down.
What I mean by this is that you should define screen navigation of your app, how people will access the content and information provided, what’s the best way to display this info and then move to individual screens, button layout, design, etc.
There are various tools that can help with this. One good way is the following:
- Start with the tried & true pencil & paper, or an iPhone/iPad sketchbook like this
- If you want to make some informal “sketch-type” mockups, Balsamiq is a good tool for this
- If you want some more realistic type mockups, OmniGraffle Pro is a popular option
You’ll find that making mockups helps you solve a lot of design problems early rather than realizing you wanted something different halfway through development, and often resulting in a much better app.
Why is all of this important or relevant to marketing you might say? If you want your game or app to do well you need to focus your thoughts on the end user. If you create a very elegant, seamless solution to an existing problem (or a game or app that’s very unique and appealing) you will have won 50% of the marketing battle.
An example of this is the Clear to-do list App for iOS. There are many other to-do apps out there, many with more features, but they chose to focus on an exquisite user experience to great success.
They did such a good job making the app beautiful and easy to use that many iOS users began talking about the app (word of mouth) and media outlets picked up on the story and reported about it. Things just took off from there.
So it’s worth the time up front to come up with an elegant design for your app. iOS users expect high quality!
Pre-Development Phase Conclusion
So in conclusion, it’s worth the time to vet your idea up front and come up with a good design for your product before proceeding with development:
- Ask yourself Who to find your target audience
- Ask yourself What to analyze your competition
- Ask yourself Why to make sure your app has a “Mariachi moment”
- Ask yourself When you’ll be able to get your app finished
- Ask yourself How your app will look and work from a user’s perspective
And that’s it for the pre-development section. Next let’s move on to discussing the development phase! :]
While you’re in the development phase, there’s a lot you can do to increase the chances of your app’s success. Here are six things you might try:
- Generating Buzz Early
- Creating a Teaser Trailer
- Releasing an App Preview
- Integrating Analytics APIs
- Integrating Push Notifications and/or a News Feed
- Adding High-Value Features
Let’s go over these ideas one by one and see if any of them might be a good idea for your app!
1) Generating Buzz Early
A common question asked by app developers is “when should I begin marketing for my app?”
According to our survey results, it seems like most developers are currently marketing at (or near) the end of the product development cycle:
There are some advantages to marketing near the end:
- You could potentially get a nice “surprise/news spike” effect such as Apple achieves when they release a new product
- You have something tangible to show off rather than something in the very early stages
- It’s easier to keep coding and then do marketing than having to split your efforts
- You’re sure you’re actually going to finish the project (rather than having a risk of abandoning the effort)
However, I fear that the main reason many developers wait until the end is because marketing is treated as an afterthought.
As another point of view, I recommend you read this article by experienced entrepreneur Rob Walling: Why You Should Start Marketing The Day You Start Coding. He argues that marketing early provides a number of advantages, from idea validation to a stronger launch date. In addition:
- You get to know and interact with your customers early on. This will help polish ideas, add features you didn’t think of and improve the overall quality of the app.
- You can start generating word of mouth early and often.
- By the time your app comes out, people will have heard of it and be familiar with it in their minds. This will make them more likely to purchase it.
- You can create a list of potential users and customers for sending newsletters, beta testing, etc.
Note that this might not make sense for every app. Some apps simply won’t have much of a following until the app is on the store to play with. And it’s harder to do this if you’re a first-time developer because you won’t have an existing audience from prior apps you can leverage.
Also be sure to consider the estimated duration of your project. If this game or app will take a very long time to finish, don’t bother marketing as soon as you start. Many times have we seen apps (ahem, TextMate 2, ahem…) or games (Spore, Duke Nukem, Square Enix Games for iOS) announced and hyped waaaay before their release.
If you do think it would make sense to hype your app early, how can you do it in practice? There are plenty of great resources to help you with that:
- Create a free blog or website with WordPress, or use equally free or inexpensive alternatives like Joomla!, Drupal, SquareSpace, Tumbler, Blogger, etc. As you work on your app, upload pictures and videos of your work in progress and write about your experience during development. It’s very interesting and it lets you interact with your users early and often.
- If you do create a blog, you might want to consider making a blog for your company with sub-pages for apps rather than individual sites for each app. This way it will be easier for you to create pages for apps in the future, and you can consolidate your customer base.
- LaunchRock is a super-easy way to promote your app via a “Launching Soon” page with social connectivity and other useful features. If you only have a few minutes but want to get something up, this is a good way to go.
- Visit forums specializing in your market. For instance if you are making a game then Touch Arcade is the place to go for uploading trailers, links, screenshots, etc. As we discussed in the pre-development section, it’s important to go where your target audience is – and the earlier you can get involved in that community, the better your app will be received when it is released!
- Create a Twitter account for your app or game as well as a Facebook page. Social networks are a great way to freely promote your app and document the process. Be sure not to spam though – tweets and posts should always provide value.
- YouTube will let you upload trailers, previews, work in progress, dev diaries, etc. This is a great way to showcase progress, features and to really tell what’s unique and special about your app. Note you might want to avoid Vimeo for reasons discussed in this article.
- If you set up a blog, you might want to allow users to sign up for a newsletter for updates. If you do this, it’s a good idea to give users something useful in return for signing up for the newsletter, such as a free wallpaper, video, art, eBook, etc. As far as a newsletter provider goes, for our monthly iOS newsletter we use aweber and have been quite happy with them.
“I run TONS of giveaways (iTunes Gift Cards, iPads, iPods etc). They are an AMAZING way to grow your Facebook and twitter pages. . . .I was able to grow my Facebook page so quickly using this method (currently over 70K Facebook likes). Also have regular giveaways, even if they’re small ones. This will keep people coming back to your Facebook page.” – Anonymous
You don’t need to do everything for every app – try to use the ones you feel more comfortable with and the ones that you think will best help you on your project. The internet is a wonderful resource and it contains millions of possible clients and customers.
2) Creating a Teaser Trailer
Trailers are a great way to showcase your game or app. Currently 22% of survey respondents are creating teaser trailers:
Teaser trailers take some time investment to create, but they are something that, if done well, can certainly increase interest and hype for your app. It’s very cool to see a live demonstration of a game or app, specially the unique features and why it stands out from the competition.
“I posted [a teaser trailer] to YouTube and shared that link on Facebook, Twitter, my website, and assorted forums. I created it with a nice app from the Mac App Store called SoundStage.” – Brian Ensor
What was highly suggested by the responses in our survey is to make your trailers concise (a minute or less!) and jump straight into the action.
If possible try to use software like ScreenFlow to capture footage from the iOS Simulator or use a good video camera to capture footage of the app in action (this will be necessary in games that require motion controls, for example).
Some people turned away from making a trailer because of the complexity and their lack of design skills. Fear not because I have a simple tip for you: iMovie. iMovie comes with every Mac so if you own one, chances are you have it installed.
The user interface is highly intuitive and simple to use, there are plenty of resources online (paid and free) and it includes templates for you to use. Additionally there is iMovie for iOS it only costs $4.99 and includes many templates as well.
Handy Link: If you are feeling a bit adventurous then I recommend one of my personal websites for learning After Effects: Video Copilot. You can also visit 3DBuzz, another one of my personal favorites and where I learned Autodesk Maya as well as C++.
Of course if you know other more advanced tools such as Final Cut from Apple, Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas then by all means take advantage of this.
3) Releasing an App Preview
Sometimes App Review sites write preview articles about apps in development. This can be a good way to help spread awareness in theory, but there’s one major problem with this: getting the app reviewers to pay attention to you! :]
This section of advice applies equally to app previews (before release) and app reviews (upon release), so we will be referring back to this section in part 2.
Many of us have sent mails and contacted media, review and tech sites in order to get promotion for our app. I mean if we can get our app on Engadget, TUAW, MacWorld or ArsTechnica then we can start counting the money, right?!?
Reality is much harder however. Barely ever do we get a reply and it’s more like rolling the dice than a useful tool. This is not just how my experience has been but what was generally expressed in our survey. Feel free to try contacting these sites and publications but keep in mind that it’s not very effective or easy to get a response.
“Take those 20 hours you were going to spend emailing bloggers for reviews and put it into polishing your app, making it pixel perfect.” -Dave Stevenson
If you’re determined to proceed anyway, here are some websites you can try contacting or communicating with in order to promote your app:
- Touch Arcade
- App Advice
- 148 Apps
- raywenderlich.com (if you’re a reader, for our Reader’s Apps Reviews series)
- Cocoa China (for our Chinese readers :] )
- And many more, see this list!
There are also websites that will let you pay for a review, this is something just a handful of people on our survey said they had done. There’s the debate of paying for someone to review your product, considering that it might not really reflect their true thoughts or enjoyment of the app.
“I [managed to get my app reviewed by contacting app review sites], but it was very difficult going. I elected not to use any paid review sites, not solely because of budget reasons (after all it would only be a few bucks per review) but also because it felt wrong.” – Lynn Pye
What a couple of respondents did recommend is writing directly to people who work for these websites and companies. If you have previously established a relationship with someone who works at a review or news site then contact them, ask for some help, send info, links, promo codes, etc.
“The best way is to build relationships with the people writing reviews. If you don’t have a relationship with anyone then it is a complete shot in the dark and you have to conjure hope that the people on the other side is interested in what you’re doing.” – David McGraw
If you don’t know anyone then now would be a good time to start. Write to them, try to befriend people, use social networks to your advantage. I have made many fantastic friends from around the world thanks to my website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
As you continue to release apps, keep track of anyone who does write a review for your apps. Thank them for the review and stay in touch – if they wrote a review for one of your apps and enjoyed it, they might be interested in writing a review for another of your apps in the future.
The general advice here seems to be quantity, connections and your target audience. Target those individuals and websites that cater to your audience. If you are making a regular To-Do list app then don’t expect Touch Arcade to even care, whereas if you make a pretty new game then contact them for sure.
Don’t bother writing to Engadget, TUAW, MacWorld or ArsTechnica, they probably get hundreds of emails a week and are as generalized as possible. Focus on websites that may not even have anything to do with apps, like cooking and food websites for a recipes app, or music and instrument related sites if you are making a musical app.
Blindly sending out emails might work, but it’s as efficient as trying to walk in complete darkness, expect to bump your head quite a lot in the process of getting where you want to.
Finally, check out these great tips on getting your app reviewed (including a sample pitch!) from Erica Sadun, a writer at TUAW in an interview by Tutorial Team member Tope Abayomi. Reading this will decrease your chances of being ignored! :]
4) Integrating Analytics APIs
Integrating an Analytics API into your app can be a great way to gain insight into how users are using your apps. To my surprise over 40% of all developers use analytics in their apps; in all honesty, I expected this to be much lower.
One comment that was mentioned by quite a few respondents is fear of using analytics due to privacy issues with a user’s device info. This is something that’s been brought to light recently with apps extracting a user’s entire contacts or sending information without permission.
Yes, the problem is real and users should be notified of what info is being sent or shared, but I strongly believe analytics should be a part of every project. The reason why analytics are so important is because they allow you to determine some of the following things:
- Number of users vs. number of downloads, so you can see your piracy rate.
- Which part of your app or game users are spending more time on. This could be due to a very cool and useful feature or a difficult portion of your game that players are stuck on.
- Tailor your app and the experience to what users are enjoying most.
- See the return rate of your users, average users per day, time spent in your app, etc.
All of this info is incredibly valuable when it comes to creating the best possible experience and app. In order to help you incorporate analytics into your next app, here is a list of available APIs:
- Google Analytics
- Playtomic (tutorial here)
- iTunes Connect
- Or your own custom solution…
Over half of the respondents who use analytics recommended Flurry, they seem to be really happy with the service and what it provides.
“￼I used Flurry Analytics and am glad I did. It helps me gain a perspective on how much my app gets used.” – Michael Reynolds
The last item on the list is correct. Some developers have created their own custom analytics solutions. Not a bad idea if you need to tailor the information you receive or want to have more control of the process.
iTunes Connect is not really an analytics API but it can help you to spot trends, drops in sales and strong markets for your product. You can hold off updates until sales start to drop, this way you attract new customers and get a fresh batch of reviews on iTunes. You can also target the countries and regions where your product is doing well, all with just analyzing the iTunes Connect sales trend info.
Handy Link: If you are looking for a great software to help you track sales, reviews, downloads, etc., then I suggest AppViz. It’s a Mac application which allows you to download all your iTunes Connect info for offline analysis.
There really is no reason not to use analytics, but as a wise grandfather once said “with great power comes great responsibility”. When deciding what API to use, make sure you read all about how it works and what information (if any) is gathered from a user’s device. This way you avoid any future issues with uploaded contacts or unnecessary information being extracted.
As an alternative, in case you are iffy about using analytics, you can always notify the user about it and even ask for permission to do so (a simple boolean stored in your NSUserDefaults can help check for this at runtime).
5) Integrating Push Notifications and/or a News Feed
iOS includes built in support for Apple’s Push Notifications service. As a matter of fact we have a tutorial right here. In versions of iOS previous to 5.0, notifications were very annoying and tended to interrupt the user in the middle of an activity.
Thankfully with iOS 5 that’s no longer the case, so including notifications is even better than before from a user standpoint.
Push Notifications can be incorporated into your app with very little work (specially if using a third party service) and the benefits far outweigh the effort. What this will enable you to do is have a doorway open to communicate with each and every user of your game or app (as long as they haven’t turned off notifications for your app in the device’s settings).
You can then notify them about anything you want (though don’t go sending random notifications just for fun, hehe). When you are about to release a new app, want to announce something, preview new features, etc. All of this can be done with Push Notifications.
There are great third party Push Notification providers such as Urban Airship. They have great plans, some even free, and easy to use APIs and web interfaces for handling devices and notifications.
I’ve used Urban Airship before and incorporating it into your apps is literally done in a matter of minutes. Give it a try :)
Alternatively, if you want to save a bit of money or have more control over the process, you can set up your own APNS server. We have a tutorial on how to to that here.
Another good way to get more communication to your users is adding a custom newsfeed into your application. Several developers responded to having created a simple XML or JSON file on their server to check for news or updates at launch. It’s a different approach with similar results.
The main difference between using a news feed and using notifications is that a notification can be received even when the app is not in use, but a user can dismiss it, or check it, and never see the info again.
A newsfeed, on the other hand, requires that the app be open, but what’s cool is that you can display the same info for a few days or weeks without worrying about it being dismissed by the user.
“All my apps have a news feed. This is HUGE to notify your current users when you launch a new game. This is the single biggest thing for me when I launch a new game. I can instantly notify anyone that plays one of my games using a popup upon launch.” – Anonymous
Of course no one says it’s not possible or recommended to use both at once. It will help give you the best of both worlds while making available to users all the information you need for them to receive.
Here are the stats regarding the usage of a newsfeed and notifications in apps (Green is “Yes” and Red is “No”):
As you can see, the majority of respondents don’t currently use push notifications or news feeds in their apps. However, it’s still a good idea that many respondents have seen some success with, so you should still consider using this technique in your own apps! :]
6) Adding High-Value Features
Another thing you can do in the development stage to set your app up for success is to add some high-value features into your app. Here are the top tips we received from our survey respondents:
- Usability and Beta Testing
- Fast and responsive apps, specially when ported from a desktop version
- Game Center features for games
- Good UI design and customization
- Outstanding User Experience (UX)
- or games, striking a good balance between challenge and fun
- Focusing on doing the basic things your app must do
- Support for sending feedback emails from within the app
- Multiplayer features in games
- Good use of touch and interactivity in your app
- Updating your apps and adding new features
- Connectivity with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.
- If necessary, cloud syncing between iPhone, iPad, Mac, etc. (tremendously easy now with iCloud)
These are many ways in which you can add that extra bit of polish to your app. In my view the two most important things you can do to enhance your app and improve customer satisfaction is deliver a reliable app and create a stylish and intuitive interface.
“Reliability is number one – that it doesn’t crash. This is my top priority – analyzing memory leaks, allocations, etc. If the app crashes – it is typically discarded. Next comes ease of use. I spend a lot of time reducing the number of ‘decisions’ a user has to make – the more ‘obvious’ and ‘intuitive’ – the higher the adoption.” – Sal Lucido
Your users will not see all the extra work you put into performance optimization, fixing memory leaks and profiling your app, but they will certainly expect it to function as quickly and flawlessly as possible.
A good UI is no longer an “extra” feature of your app but something that’s required. By good UI I don’t meant you have to go all out and create the next Flipboard or Pulse apps. That level of customization is good for their purpose but it’s also very time consuming and can require a lot of resources.
Look at Apple’s own Reminders, Mail, Messages and Photos apps. They all serve their purpose very well without going heads over heels in custom code and graphics. They focus on the task at hand and create a simple and elegant UI/UX.
“Appearance is very important. Every time we’ve improved app and icon appearance we’ve seen a marked increase in sales.” – Justine Pratt
Alternatively, there are affordable services that allow you to buy custom templates for your apps like, for example, App Design Vault.
My favorite iOS app of all time as far as UI and UX goes is Road Inc.. It is simply the most beautiful, exquisite and well crafted application I have ever used. Currently available for iPad I suggest you download it (if you don’t mind paying) and giving it a go, or just check out some videos and screenshots (which in all honesty don’t do it justice).
Road Inc. is the epitome of what good design is all about, and though you don’t have to go as far as that to make your app look good, it’s a great eye opener on how little features can add a lot of polish.
Besides a responsive, well built app with good design you can always add little things to help make your product more robust and enjoyable. Social networks are easy to integrate now a days, specially Twitter in iOS 5 (read our tutorial here).
If you are making a game, add Game Center (our tutorial can be found here) to it. I tend to purchase more games with it than those without it (I hope someone at EA is reading this). Leaderboards are a great way to let users share and interact with others while Achievements will keep them returning for more.
iCloud is here and it’s here to stay (our tutorial can be found here), with over 100 million registered users and improved support in the upcoming version of OS X, Mountain Lion, you can definitely make your customers happy by adding iCloud.
This is something fantastic from a user standpoint because I no longer have to worry about my Real Racing 2 saves being different on my iPhone or iPad, or having to worry about my documents and spreadsheets being outdated on either device.
Handy Tip: As a suggestion you can create custom frameworks and boilerplate code for much of this. If you want to incorporate Twitter, iCloud, Facebook or Game Center then why not create reusable classes for all your projects? You could save over 50% of work on future projects.
The rest of the items on the list are excellent suggestions that can certainly be applied if possible. The features, design and interactivity you create for a game is completely different than that of an app, but you can still apply the general concepts to both.
Development Phase Conclusion
So there you have it, six things to consider doing while you’re still in the development phase:
- Generating Buzz Early
- Creating a Teaser Trailer
- Releasing an App Preview
- Integrating Analytics APIs
- Integrating Push Notifications and/or a News Feed
- Adding High-Value Features
It’s worth mentioning that none of this is an obligation nor does it guarantee instant success. You should take the best of each item suggested and apply it to your app only when appropriate.
Also, there are no hard and fast rules in marketing or app development, so don’t be afraid to experiment and to think outside the box from time to time. Being spontaneous can greatly improve your app!
Where To Go From Here
I hope some of the tips shared here can instantly help you acquire more customers, improve the quality of your apps and, above all, generate more buzz and hype prior to the release of your product.
There are many links, tips and resources I shared to help you work on different aspects of marketing your app. From making trailers to using analytics, there’s something for everyone here so you can immediately begin using this on your projects.
In Part 2 of the series, we will go over what to do when you are ready to release your app, and answer questions like: Should you create a press kit? Do promo codes work?
If you enjoyed this post, you should definitely check out Jeremy Olson’s App Making Course – it’s a great online video course that focuses on the design & marketing side of making apps, and has a ton of great advice.
If you have any tips or advice about the pre-development or development phases of marketing an app, please chime in the forum discussion below!