So, you’ve decided that you want to develop an app, or even better, already have. But you’re stuck on how to market it and get it seen in the various app stores. What’s worse, you have no idea where to start and everything you read sounds like a foreign language.
If you’ve already developed an app, then you’re going to have a harder time marketing it than if you’d carried out the research in the most effective way, which is before development. To borrow a tired old phrase, in business, if you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
What this means is that you should plan your marketing and research thoroughly before development begins, at the business plan stage. This enables you to find your target audience and what appeals to them, which will make marketing the app a whole lot easier later on.
Where to Start
First of all, remember that you will be playing in a highly competitive market and as such, you need to stand out. It’s a real battle to do this, so you are going to have to know your buyer persona inside out as well as create an app that zings.
It’s wise to check out how viable your idea is and whether it will be able to compete with the big boys. You could just make a cheap and nasty version of Angry Birds and attempt to jump on the bandwagon, but no self-respecting appreneur is going to want to do that, right?
This means that it’s good to check out what’s already on the market, whether a gap exists and if there are any similar, successful apps out there already that are based on the same idea as your own. If so and they have a lot of advertising finance and momentum behind them, then you’re probably better off coming up with another idea.
Saying that, you’re bound to come across at least one app that is made by someone other than Zynga and doesn’t present as much competition. All of these that you find, download and test thoroughly, looking at the following:
- What does the app have that yours doesn’t?
- How can it be improved upon?
- Who is the app’s audience?
- What kind of reviews has it received?
- How are they marketing the app? Does it have decent screenshots and icons, or does it look cheap?
If, after this, you believe that your app is better and you can improve on what’s out there, then sketch out how you can make your app even more appealing to the audience.
Talking of Target Audience
You need to know them. Who are you selling to? Business users? Kids that like games? Adults that enjoy games? It’s important that you know, or your app will more than likely fail. It’s tempting to try and include everyone, but this is also unlikely to work; you need to know exactly who is going to download your app so that you can understand them and market to them effectively.
You will need to know demographics such as:
- Marital status
As well as more individual information such as:
This information will help you to determine what kind of person is likely to download your app and why.
Where to Find your Audience
So you know your app and the general niche it falls into. Now it’s worth checking out where your audience frequents on the web in order to further discover more about them. Do they use Facebook or LinkedIn; how about email? Are they business users that are likely to open more mail, or kids who rarely check mail?
Do they use social apps, what kinds of websites do they like to visit? Do they enjoy forums and discussion around apps? All of this will make a difference when it comes to getting your app downloaded in the long run. It can be a laborious process, but it will be worth it in the end so long as your app stands up to scrutiny.
All you have to do from there is really get on a good developer forum, I personally like iPhoneDebSTK.com. Ask around and say, “Hey, people that are ranked top 25 in reference. What are you making in a day?” They will tell you, “Oh, we’re making 500 to 600 sales.
Well, not really. I mean it’s no use going onto a knitting forum and asking about app revenue, even if your app is all about knitting. The people you will meet there will know plenty about knitting, sure, but nothing about how to make money from an app.
Use industry forums for app developers such as the iOS Developer forum, XDA Developer and the MSDN Windows Phone dev forum. Talking with your peers is invaluable and the beauty of developers is that they are not generally afraid of sharing, just look to open source development for proof of that.
Raising the Cash
Unless you have already secured funding (lucky you, at this stage), then the next step is to look at how much it’s going to cost to carry out:
- Submission and approval processes in the app stores
All of this can reach a pretty tidy sum so how are you going to raise the money? There are a few options open to you, the nicest of which would be a kindly relative with a firm belief in you and your product. These aren’t very common though unfortunately, so it’s more likely that you will have to take one of a few courses that are available to you, such as:
- Grants/funding from government bodies and charities
- Angel Investments
Before we go on, it’s very important that you have a fully fleshed out business plan which includes the following information:
- Target Audience
- Competitor analysis
- Evidence that a gap in the market exists
- Financial forecasting/projections
- Start-up expenses
- Intended marketing activities
- Exactly how much and what you need to begin development
Get an accountant to help you if necessary, but ensure that your plan is business-like, well written and professional, with an executive summary and all of the necessary appendixes.
It’s difficult to squeeze cash out of banks in the current economic climate, so make sure that you fully explore all of your options. Many start-ups, especially those in the technology niche, are choosing crowdfunding these days, but make no mistake, it may appear informal but in order to even get onto a decent crowdfunding site, you still need a solid business plan that is watertight. What you can really do without is potential investors asking questions that you can’t answer.
Grants and Start-up Funding
The EU has numerous schemes aimed at new businesses and in the UK, digital businesses are becoming increasingly recognised as being valuable to the economy. With this in mind, have a really good look around to see if you qualify for any funding at all, it might just be worth it.
Last year, the European Commission put 100m Euros into the start-up fund for innovative companies, saying in a press release:
Around 1000 start-ups and other highly innovative companies will receive grants from a new €100m funding round from the European Commission’s Future Internet Public-Private-Partnership to develop apps and other digital services, in areas such as transport, health, smart manufacturing, energy and media.
Further to that, European Commission Vice President Neelie Kroes said:
I promised action at Le Web in Paris last December and now I am delivering. We need more innovation and a more digital economy in Europe and that starts with a better ecosystem for start-ups. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.
Note the phrase “to develop apps” in the first paragraph and it tends to give some hope that you can secure some funding this way.
Proving your Case
There are plenty of famous examples where apps have taken off like wildfire or been acquired by a large company for millions within a year or two, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have already given serious thought to how you’re going to monetise your app and this should already be in the business plan.
You can monetise in any of several ways:
- Paid apps – where the user pays to download and use
- Freemium – where a scaled down version of the app is offered and the fully featured app offered at a price (try before you buy)
- In-app advertising – not overly popular with users, but those that don’t ignore may actually click through (it pays to use good advertisers in this case, such as recognisable brands – try to secure these in principle at the planning stage if you use this model)
- In-app purchase – where users can pay to unlock aspects of the apps, buy privileges, send gifts to others etc.
You will have to analyse this of course to see how it works for competitors; games tend to use advertising and in-app purchasing, whilst business/lifestyle apps tend to offer upgrade features or be paid apps. Depending on your audience, some may even prefer to pay for an app, as they believe they are paying for the quality that you’re providing.
Many people would love to develop the next Instagram, but the reality is that it takes hard work, extensive research and sound planning to make an app work. Once you’ve done all of this and secured the funding, then it’s time to get on with development and marketing the app itself.