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 […] By Felipe Laso-Marsetti.

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Learn how to market your iPhone and iPad apps!

Learn how to market your iPhone and iPad apps!

Learn how to market your iPhone and iPad apps!

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 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! :]

Series Overview

Before we begin, here’s what we’re going to cover in this four part series:

  1. 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?
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

  1. Who Will Use My App?
  2. What Is My Competition?
  3. Why Will My Product Be Unique?
  4. When Will I Get it Done?
  5. 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.

Probably not the target audience for an RPG game!

Probably not the target audience for an RPG game!

Probably not the target audience for an RPG game!

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?

What's your app's Mariachi moment?

What's your app's Mariachi moment?

What's your app's Mariachi moment?

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.

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:

  1. Ask yourself Who to find your target audience
  2. Ask yourself What to analyze your competition
  3. Ask yourself Why to make sure your app has a “Mariachi moment”
  4. Ask yourself When you’ll be able to get your app finished
  5. 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! :]


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