Marketing iPhone Apps — How we got 250k downloads in 4 days

We’ve been incredibly lucky to have such a great run of downloads for our Discovr apps. I’d love to say that there was some magical marketing secret science that we used, but instead you’ll see that the tips in this post are actually really basic and often straight-up obvious. The trick is to start with a good app and then roll all of these things around it.

OK. So here are the actual marketing techniques that we used to promote Discovr. No more, no less. Hopefully these tips can help you market your app too.


Tip: Understand that the App Store is an incredible distribution channel that lets you reach huge markets in a very efficient way.
The single biggest driver of sales is the App Store itself. Rankings in the App Store push your visibility and therefore your downloads. Rankings themselves are calculated algorithmically, based on your running momentum over the most recent three days. Therefore do everything you can to start your climb well. The very first day is crucial; a strong start sets the base for the momentum calcs and it’s during this period that you’re most likely to rank.

One good way to maximize your downloads is to concentrate all of your press and all of your release push to happen at the same time so that you have the strongest possible start to your ranking climb.

Example: We usually set our apps to a future release date, or “Hold for Developer Release” if we are submitting an update to the App Store. This means we can release it so that it goes live just a few hours before any press coverage that we might have lined up. Setting up press embargoes can sometimes work, but they always feel tricky to me.


Tip: You don’t always need to do your big push at Version 1.0. 
This is a tricky one. Sometimes you want to come out with a bang and maximise your chances of ranking. Other times, it might make more sense for you to release v1.0 early and get as much feedback as possible. Then fix all the bugs and issues that everyone reports and make that v1.1. Then push this out in a big way. This also helps you get around the trickiness of finding yourself with an app release that has suddenly appeared in the App Store when you weren’t ready for it. Mmm, been there before!

Example: We actually waited until v1.3 before we switched Discovr Apps to free. This was especially important for us because we had no idea how big our Amazon Web Services server configuration should be to deal with free pricing. By releasing Discovr Apps first as a paid app, and then later as a free app we got to test it under a basic load at paid price and learn from that. We were able to use those initial traffic data to predict what kind of server loads we might experience as a free app. This was incredibly useful and allowed us to scale up our AWS config to deal with the big increase in traffic that we got at free.


Tip: Think about paid versus free.
This is a big one and deserves a whole chapter, but it’s all down to the goal you have – whether you want to reach a lot of users quickly (free) or try and catch revenue along the way (paid). There is a huge amount to be learned by releasing apps at different prices. Also, don’t be afraid of free. It can be a fantastic way to drive demand and get exposure that you can then turn into cash.

Example: We’ve experimented with many different pricing levels including $3.99, $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, and free. Each has their own benefits. Try switching to free for short periods and see what you learn. We make more money in total at $0.99 than at any other price.


Tip: Build social / sharing features directly into your app.
Make it easy for users to share what they find in your app.

Example: We made it easy to share a screenshot of a map to Twitter, Facebook, or email. This has been huge for us. e.g. Check this out.

Try to share content (video, audio, or images) if you can. In our case you can share something visual (a map) which then shows up in people’s social magazines like Flipboard and can generate another round of interest.


Tip: Comment on what is happening right now. Some of our best shares and runs on Twitter have come from when we commented on something that was happening right now. People are more engaged with the content when it’s relevant and will often share it onwards. You can either comment in Twitter or Facebook, or even better bake it in as part of your app.

Example: We shared a map of Disneyworld apps when it was being discussed on Twitter and it generated a bunch of retweets.


Tip: Localize the description of your app in the App Store.
Don’t forget that there are customers all over the world and they speak all kinds. You need to do everything you possibly can to convert them when they land on your App Store page. The description of your app is a crucial part of the funnel. NB: Localizing the app itself is often tricky and means that every subsequent update also has to be maintained. Instead, start by localizing your description in the App Store. Then it’s easy to update if your change your normal copy.

Example: Japan is a huge part of our total sales. As many of Japanese users don’t speak English you are relying on your app icon, your price, and your app name to convert them into customers. That’s not the best start to your funnel, so we use one of the many online translation services to do quick & cheap localizations for our app text descriptions. This has had a big impact for us in countries like Japan and Korea where localized character text helps to convert the non-English speaking users.


Tip: Love thy blogger.
The app market is so vast that you need some help if you’re going to have any impact. Bloggers rule the universe. Show them some love. Reaching out to the big blogs and sites works best if you’ve already built up a relationship with them before. Either get introduced by someone they already know, or spend some time curating a relationship with them before you need their help.

Example: we’re always talking with bloggers about what they’re writing about. Try to send them interesting articles, or links or even make them twitter lists if you find something useful that’s in their space.


Tip: Love the little blogger too.
It’s great to lead your campaign with a story from a high profile blog if you can and the rest will follow. However, if you can’t get through to a high profile blog, then tackling the small and mid-size blogs can often have just as much impact. Love the little blogger too.

Example: We’ve had huge numbers of downloads generated from a single tweet by some underground blogger in Japan that’s hooked into a whole different market.


Tip: Do everything you can to make it easy for the bloggers to write about you.
This means giving them everything they need to write about you without any further contact.

Example: We usually send a quick intro email plus a heap of assets they might be able to use. At a minimum this includes: a text description, screenshots (iPhone and iPad), promo codes, your App Store page url, your website, and an embeddable Youtube video of the app. Sometimes we even write a story about our app as though we were the blogger writing. Send them that story, written in their own style, about the stuff they write about, and they’ll often give it a tweak and then stick it out there.


Tip: Send out pre-release builds of the app to key bloggers.

Example: We usually use Testflight app to send out a pre-release build. I often do this while the app is still Waiting for Review so that the blogger can check it out and have some time to write before the app gets released.


Tip: You don’t have to spend on marketing.
For most startups & app developers, spending a pile of cash probably won’t be the best way to promote your app.

Example: We didn’t actually spend any money on marketing for Discovr Apps. No PR campaign, no mobile ads, no google ads, no paid installs, no SEO, nothing. The only money we’ve spent on marketing since we started Filter Squad has been to print up some stickers, and to print some tshirts / hoodies for the team.


Tip: Use Twitter to help drive new conversations around your app. 
Follow what’s happening around your app on Twitter and try to respond to everyone who talks about your app.

Example: We always try to get in touch with everyone who follows us or tweets about our apps. We’ve had wonderful, random conversations with strangers because of the apps we’ve made. It’s fun, and wen you have one of these conversations it can often seed a wave of interest amongst their friends and followers.


Tip: Run little competitions on Twitter and Facebook.
These work best if they’re really simple.

Example: We’ve had great success with giving away something as simple as a promo code, or just asking questions like: ” Who can guess what we’re working on next?”


Tip: Monitor your stats / metrics all the time.
We hit refresh about a billion times a day.

Example: We use App Figures for app metrics. We quickly saw that Japan was one of our most important territories, so we focused on building out extra features for Japan like dedicated character support (Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji).


Tip: Understand that you can do it from anywhere. You don’t have to be based in Silicon Valley, or even a big city.

Example: We’re based in Perth, Australia. It’s a five hour flight to Sydney and our hometown is most definitely not the tech capital of the world. Our advice: spend time with your local crew. We’ve got some great people here like @nullaki,@sutto@jay_hollywood@xfitzyx@richardgiles@marcloveridge,@timparsons@sii_wa@lachygroom@mattcomi. Shouts to you guys because you make us feel like Perth is a place where we can make things happen.


Tip: Treat your customers like the precious gold.
This is a biggie. If someone tweets with a support issue then try to fix it. Right then. Every support request is a chance to turn a negative experience for your customer into a positive experience. If you can make that happen they’ll often tweet about it or tell their friends. Everyone knows what it’s like to have a support issue and not even get a response from the company. Don’t be that company. Instead, surprise them with how quickly you get back in touch. Often they’re happy to have received a reply at all.

Example: We have lots of holes in our app database. When someone reports an app that’s missing we’ll try to index it, right then, right there, and make sure it shows up. We always try to respond if we’re awake.


Tip: Listen to your customers. 
Ask for your customers’ help. We make a huge effort to distil down the customer support requests and ideas and to incorporate the issues that keep bubbling up to the surface.

Example: When we released v1.0 of Discovr Apps we had a heap of bugs and a heap of missing and dodgy data. Lots of customers wanted to see the price and device and ratings of apps, so we built that into v1.3 and it was the beginning of the big run of downloads.


Tip: Make it easy for your customers to talk to you.
Make it easy for them to tell you what’s wrong / what could be better / and what they’d love to see next.

Example: We built a feedback button directly into our app that lets our customers easily send us a support email. The email automatically includes their device, OS, app name, version etc. We get hundreds of these emails every day.


Tip: Cross-promote your app with other apps that you’ve also
built.

This doesn’t apply to everyone, but it can be really effective if you’ve got a couple of apps in the store.

Example: We’ve recently added a new screen in our app that shows the user which apps of ours aren’t yet installed on their device. We’ve also added a callout on the main screen that shows up and that pushes the user towards the cross-promotion screen. This is a big one for us, because we’ve already got a base of users who downloaded Discovr Music. That means there is a good chance they might want to try another one of our apps.


Tip: Use your promo codes. 
One of the nice things about releasing a new version of your app is that you get a new batch of promo codes. Funnily enough it seems that
everyone loves a freebie.

Example: send out a couple of codes whenever you reach out to bloggers. It’s also nice to drop a few free codes on Twitter or Facebook for your fans. We’ve even had some unexpected big wigs jump in to claim a freebie in a competition.


Tip: Write blog posts about your apps and what you’ve learned.
Share what you learn. I’ve learned so much from reading other developer’s blogs. Help someone else to learn if you can. You’ll get a direct benefit and feel good at the same time.

Example: Stu wrote about our AWS setup and we got all kinds of great traffic from that.


Tip: Make it easy for people to join your mailing list. 
Every time you get a new user who downloads your app you should make it easy for them to join your mailing list. That means building something into your app so that you can collect their info while they are inside your app and engaged.

Example: We’ve recently integrated Mailchimp into our apps which makes it easy for our users to subscribe directly to our mailing list. Users tap on the subscribe form within the app, enter their email, and the data are pushed directly to our Mailchimp mailing list.


Tip: Tweak your App Store description so it reads well on as many different devices as you can. 
The description that people see when they land on your itunes page is one of the biggest weapons you have in converting them into a customer. When you look at your description on an iPhone you get to see the full description. However, on Desktop and iPad you only have a few lines of text before the jump (aka the ‘More’ link). Tweak your text so that your description reads well on all devices.

There are many schools of thought on what text you should put in those first few lines. Some advocate putting your traction first (e.g. good rankings or a press quote) and following that with a description of what your app does. Others say the description should go first. Either way, it seems that a combination of the app’s benefits and some supporting proof is the best way to convert. Lastly, more people buy apps from their device than from their desktop, so make sure your text is optimized for iPhone/iPad Store real estate, rather than Desktop.

Example: We try to make our description show one line of text that shows good rankings, then one line of text that is a press quote. Then another line of supporting text about what the app does.


Final Tip: Take every opportunity to sell the dream, or your app. 
Example: Follow me on Twitter or check out our latest app here.