RWDevCon 2016 Inspiration Talk – The Weird and Wacky World of App Marketing by Jeremy Olson

Apple Design Award winner Jeremy Olson shares how he made the journey from app maker to marketer and reveals the secrets he has learned marketing Tapity’s top apps. By Christine Sweigart.

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Note from Ray: At our recent RWDevCon tutorial conference, in addition to hands-on tutorials, we also had a number of “inspiration talks” – non-technical talks with the goal of giving you a new idea, some battle-won advice, and leaving you excited and energized.

We recorded these talks so that you can enjoy them, even if you didn’t get to attend the conference. Here’s our next talk – The Weird and Wacky World of App Marketing by Jeremy Olson – I hope you enjoy!


Note: The audio is missing for the first 20 seconds.

Let’s talk about getting featured.

A lot of people say, that getting featured is about luck; you kind of get lucky. I don’t agree with that.

I think that getting featured is something that’s repeatable, it’s something that you can do again and again and that you can learn how to do. That’s because every app that I’ve released has been featured, both by Apple and the press.

So what is the key?

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Let’s go through a few candidates:

  1. Build a great product, so that’s the easy one. The one that everyone’s going to say, you need to build a great product that has great design, that solves a real problem.

    That’s very true, if you don’t then you’re not going to get featured, so that’s true.

  2. Here’s another candidate: utilize new technologies and solve trending problems. Apple loves it when apps use their latest technologies and you’re more likely to get featured. Also trending problems, so you know there’s something going on in the industry and your app addresses that. The press loves that stuff, they eat it up. So that’s another candidate.
  3. Another candidate is make a big marketing splash. You’re building up buzz over time, this is something I talk about a lot. It’s actually in Ken’s book, he’s going next, the Marketing Crescendo. How do you build up to your launch and have a lot of buzz and come out with a big splash? When you do that, you do your own job at marketing, then the press and Apple are just going to make a bigger wave for you. That’s true too.
  4. Let’s talk about another candidate: create great looking screenshots and helpful press kit. This is a practical one, yeah you need to do this. If you don’t do this you’re probably not going to get featured.
  5. Here’s another one: localize. Something interesting, a really interesting data point, I just launched an app last Friday, which I was not planning to do right before this conference but it turned out that way. It’s been getting lots of downloads lately because of the launch, but I looked at the numbers and guess what percentage came from the US? It was just 15%.

    A lot of that was because we had localized the app, so we were getting featured in app stores across the world. You might not get a homepage feature or even the press talking about you, but you still have a chance to get featured all over the world. We’re in a global marketplace, so localize your app.

What’s Really the Key?

These are all important, but they’re not the key. The key that I want to talk about is one word.

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I’m going to give you one word right away; first let’s talk about Star Wars. This is actually really relevant – I didn’t just throw this in to mention Star Wars! (Well, I might have.)

The moral of Star Wars: what is it?

If you analyze it, I think everyone would agree that the empire is trying to re-brand themselves but they’re having setbacks blowing up planets and stuff. They have some major PR problems. Everybody thinks about this empire like this black box, they’re not relatable. The storm troopers, you can’t even see their face! That’s a problem.

The moral of Star Wars is that you need to go deeper. You need to see behind the mask, see who these people are. These are real people with feelings, with hopes, with dreams and they’re people just like us, right? What you really need to do is get to know them a little bit. That’s the moral of Star Wars.

What is the key? The key to getting featured is people.

What about TechCrunch?

Now that seems really simple, but let me explain. When you think of TechCrunch, what do you think about? What comes to your mind?

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Is it the big conferences they hold, is it the craziness of being on TechCrunch? What is it that you think of?

Well when I think of TechCrunch I think of the people I know at TechCrunch, the inside of TechCrunch. Who are the people that make TechCrunch, TechCrunch? Sarah Perez is one of them, Matthew Panzarino is the editor of TechCrunch. I’ve gotten to know them over the years.

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Those are the people that I think of when I think of TechCrunch. You’re not going to get featured unless you get featured by real people. You’re not trying to get featured by TechCrunch, what you need to start thinking about is:

  • how do I make something that will appeal to
  • how do I really get to know

these great people who are in our industry? Actually they’re really fun to know. So, that’s the key.

What about Apple?

What comes to your head when you think of Apple? Maybe it’s their cool new campus coming out, their sleek devices or mistakes. When we think of Apple, they actually haven’t helped with this image that they’re this black box, you cannot get access to, it’s so hard to get in touch with a real human being.

When I think of Apple, I think about the people of Apple.

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I made sure that I protect my contacts there. I’m kidding, these aren’t my contacts. But there’s people at Apple and that’s who you need to get the attention of. They have goals, they have careers and they want to do their job really well.

Think About the Role of People When Marketing Your App

Remember that there’s an app store team, and one of the things they do is they want to find the very best apps that are coming out. They are looking for you, but are you going to be find-able by them?

How is it that one of these people in Apple is going to see your product and like it and want to feature it?

  • Is it because maybe someone at Apple, maybe a developer that you met, maybe they heard about it and they told them?
  • Is it because they saw it on a news website, it’s been getting a lot of buzz?
  • Is it because you had been building buzz for a long time and the industry’s been talking about it?

How is it that these individual people are going to find your app? Maybe it’s because you actually have a personal connection with one of them, that’s the best.

I think a lot of people at this point would say, especially if you’re cynical, will say, “Okay well that’s kind of lame.” If this is about people then I don’t know those people, I don’t have those connections so I’m done for when it comes to marketing. I hear this a lot, “I have no chance.”

Actually my point isn’t about trying to get connected immediately, though you do want to ultimately make the connections with the people themselves directly.

What I’m talking about is more a way of thinking, the way you’re thinking about the problem of getting featured. Are you thinking about it generically getting featured by Apple? Are you thinking about the things you need to do to get in front of the people at Apple and win over their hearts?

How to Make Connections with People

Let’s talk about the key to the key.

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Let’s talk about the key to people. How do you get to know people? How do you get into their hearts? The biggest key to me is respect. How do you get respect from these great people in our industry?

You don’t build these relationships with these people by schmoozing, you don’t do it by begging, you don’t do it by stalking. You do it by building genuine respect over time. This often takes time to do.

You might think, “okay I’m not part of this club,” but you can actually do something about it. You can gain their respect over time.

There’s a lot of ways to do this:

  • You can just build truly great apps. People see that over time.
  • You can make a list of the people you want to know and you can start interacting with them on Twitter, engaging with them. Think about what’s on their minds. How can you help them? How can you make their lives better?

Really focus on the people that you’re trying to engage with.

Just Like You, I Started Out Not Knowing Anyone

There’s lots of ways to do that but I want to focus on one in particular. To do that I want to tell a story. The story of how I got started.

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I think there’s a risk that you can say, “Well this isn’t something that I could do. This isn’t for me, I’m just getting started.” I want to tell the story of how I got started.

I was going to school in Charlotte, North Carolina and I was a sophomore with no connections. I didn’t even know Objective-C, I was blank slate, nothing. I was in Charlotte, North Carolina not Silicon Valley, I didn’t know anybody.

I had this idea for Grades, my first app. It’s a way to be able to see what you need to be aiming for in your next exams and to get the grades that you want. I started working on this product. I started looking in the industry and people were calling the app store a gold rush.

I really didn’t like that because it meant if it’s a gold rush, that means I’m just trying to throw something up there and see if it sticks, and it’s just about luck. I knew there had to be something to it because I saw companies like tap tap tap who were big back then, or tapbots consistently release successful apps. I thought, “There’s got to be something to this.”

I started looking at what were they doing. I quickly found out design is was big part of it, something that you consistently see in successful apps – really good design. Marketing too; these companies really marketed their products.

Then a really pivotal moment happened when I read a book by Seth Godin which I highly recommend called Tribes. This is where the talk gets to the core. In this book there is a quote, “If you think leadership is only for other people, you’re wrong. We need you to lead us.”

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I figured, okay this isn’t for me, I’m just getting started. I kind of brushed it aside and that made it worse because of this thing called imposter syndrome. A lot of us, especially the introverts among us, we have this, where you’re about to release something, like you said it’s scary to speak. We have this thing where we think, we have something but is it really good enough or is it just really obvious to people, do I really need to share it?

This imposter syndrome it plagues us, it plagues us into inactivity, it plagues us into not sharing. That’s a problem.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

I was finally able to overcome this. Seth Godin’s words started to get to me, I figured maybe at least I’ll try. I started a website, This was the original, you see the old WordPress template here:

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I just started talking about the things I was learning from other people. I synthesized them into principles and wrote about how am I applying them with my own app.

Again, I hadn’t actually released an app yet. One of the most audacious things I did though is I called this blog, “Tapity, How to Build Successful iPhone Apps.”

I’d never released an app before, but I was determined to figure it out and to help others do it. I wanted to lead, I wanted to at least try and see if this was something that I could do.

The posts went on. I didn’t get a lot of traffic in the first few months, mainly a few Twitter followers here and there, and some comments. A little while later, it got noticed by some of the people that I had been talking about like tap tap tap and started to build more of an audience. They wrote a post just about “You need to check out Jeremy’s blog.”

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So I finally released Grades based on the stuff I’d been learning, and actually it did pretty well. It got featured in some press and there were a lot of Tweets about it. Ultimately Apple featured it which was amazing. I actually found out later that some people at Apple were reading my blog. Grades was featured in a lot of other places and ultimately won an Apple design award, so that was really cool.

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The point is, all of this would not be possible if I did not market by leading. I want this idea to reach you because this is for you. This isn’t for somebody else, this is for you.

We desperately need this as an industry right now. There’s all this talk and negativity about the app store, how it’s impossible to build sustainable app businesses. Really, it’s just gotten harder.

It really has gotten harder to build sustainable app businesses. It’s not as easy, you cannot just put a 99 cent app on the app store anymore and make a million dollars, it doesn’t work that way anymore. There’s a lot more we need to figure out.

It’s not going to happen unless we have leaders. Leaders who experiment, who innovate, who don’t just complain but who actually do something about it and figure it out. Who pave a way to let others do the same.

That’s how we’re going to go on as an industry. I want to encourage you – I believe in this community. We’re going to do great things and we have a bright future, but we need YOU to lead us. Thank you.

About the Speaker: Jeremy Olson is the founder and lead designer at Tapity. His first app, Grades, won an Apple Design Award. His second app, Languages, won an App Store Best of 2012 award. His latest app, Hours, ranked #1 in Business, and was recently acquired by Five Pack Creative.

A few notes from Ray:

Would you like Jeremy to help you market your app? Tapity just launched a new service called Rocket to do just that!

If you enjoyed this talk, you should join us at RWDevCon 2017! We’ve sold out for the past two years, so don’t miss your chance.