App Failure, What Next? – Part 2

In Part 1 of App Failure, What Next? I outlined the development approach that we’ve taken with one of our apps, Nudg’em. With no sales to speak of, the ‘obvious’ decision would appear to be leaving the app behind.

However, given that we’ve done almost nothing in terms of marketing, for any of our apps, I’m considering the possibility that we simply don’t know if these apps have the potential to do well.

I’m not defending our product ideas as good. Rather, I’m questioning the change from the optimistic-view I had at the start of these projects, leading up until release, to the less-positive view I have today. If the idea is still the same, what’s different?

In Part 2 I will start by detailing what we have done to launch our apps. Clearly there are some things that we do know – what might they tell us? What feedback can we rely on? And does this suggest a different course of action to simply moving on?

‘Launching’ Nudg’em

In preparation for the v1.0 release of Nudg’em I reached out to a bunch of different review sites, along with some bloggers, developers and podcasters. Twenty or so cover emails, including promo codes and notification of the set release date.

Cold calling. It’s been cited by many people within the iOS ecosystem as a fruitless approach. My experience has been the same with all three of our apps.

Following the v1.1 update I revised my approach for reaching out to these people/sites and added a video that showed the app being used. I wanted to make it as easy as possible to get a feel for the app. Without the means to produce something polished, I went with homemade and kept the video password protected. (No longer private, here’s the video).

Adding some back-story around why we felt the app worked better as ‘free’, I repeated the cold emailing process, hoping to get coverage for the app. Nada. No responses, no coverage, no views on the video.

Hardly a strong attempt to launch a new product…

Launching Memed

Memed was our third app, it followed Nudg’em. I wanted to improve our launch effort, so with Memed, we created a teaser site, similar to a product landing page.

The intention was to make it easy for press/reviewers to consider the app before the release date and then hopefully promote it. We wanted to communicate our design intent, the vibe of the app, some of the personality – to make it interesting. We also bundled up a press-pack and included a ready-to-go press release – for anyone who decided they did want to write about it.

Despite being a little more polished, this approach had the same flaws as the Nudg’em launch, we were relying on cold emails to press sites. Nothing consistent, nothing established, no reputation to build on. Nothing dependable.

What’s more, in both cases our deficient efforts focussed on launch only. A singular attempt to generate a spike of activity. No strategy for persistent visibility or even a repeated attempt at a surge.

What Do We Know?

When considering whether or not our apps are appealing, I start by thinking about the things we do know. For each of the apps that we’ve released:

  • Someone in Apple’s review team has seen the app
  • Upon release, the app has had a period of App Store exposure in it’s primary category
  • We cold-emailed a bunch of people telling them about the app
  • Anyone who has downloaded the app can optionally rate or review the app
  • We know the number of reviews compared with the number of downloads
  • Anyone who has downloaded the app can optionally tell other people about it (word of mouth)
  • We know a little bit about the ‘traffic’ associated with the app’s keywords, and how well the app ranks for those keywords

Following initial release, the downloads for each app have dwindled and then settled at a low, consistent level. There have been a couple of bumps but nothing dramatic. Three, slow trickles of sales.

What about the things we don’t know? We don’t know how many people are considering these apps. How many people look at one of our apps each day? If we knew that we could think about the conversion rate. Even better would be knowing the source for these views…

The black box nature of the App Store isn’t new. Given the number of apps in the App Store, the rate at which new ones are arriving, and our lack of publicity/marketng – I could say that: we don’t know much about appeal of our apps.

It’s easy to flip that around and be more critical, but I’m not sure it helps. Consider the list of things that we do know, what happens if I ask: we’ve released three apps, how come nothing has ‘caught on’?

Without data, that’s a hard question to answer. It could be because the apps aren’t up to scratch; it could be because not many people have considered them. I’m looking at the same black box.

Examples of ‘Interest Piqued’

Amidst the slow trickle of sales there have been a few periods worth noting.

Our first app, Wafflr, was featured in New & Noteworthy the week of its release. We know that someone at Apple liked something about the app. Was it the overall workflow? The audio-tutorial we added? Maybe it was the animation shown before a recording starts? We don’t know.

But people downloaded it. We know that.

340 people in that featured-week. That actually seems quite low to me for such prominent exposure, but then again it is a fairly niche, $3 app, with a quirky name. I’ve got nothing to compare it against.

Off the back of those initial downloads the app got a handful of 4 and 5 star reviews. Good feedback suggesting the app’s design was useful – but from a tiny data set.

Wafflr also had a random spike of downloads over a 3 or 4 day period. 20+ sales in that period rather than the usual, 1 per week. I couldn’t find the source; my guess is that someone with a number of followers blogged about it, or tweated a link…

With exposure, would Wafflr sell?

Of the three apps, Memed received the sole ‘bite’ from all the cold-calling. App Advice tweeted a link under their daily, ‘quirky app of the day’ feature.

Also, though it seems a small detail, Memed was popular among friends on Facebook when I actively talked about it around the release. I’m not really Facebook user – I don’t have lots of ‘friends’ on there. But they commented. They liked the app: ‘it’s cool’. They liked the artwork. And they posted pictures with captions on them!

What if that net was cast a little wider? Could Memed have the mainstream appeal we were aiming for?

Are those things indication that with more exposure these apps would prove to be appealing? Or is the lack of ‘cathing on’ evidence that the apps will never be successful?

Should We Put Work into Marketing these Apps?

Broadly speaking, I see four routes we might take:

  1. Start on a fresh app using the same approach we have with the first three; stick with the App Store ‘Hit’ mentality.
  2. Start marketing one or more of the apps we’ve got; go back and fill in the missing work.
  3. Start on a fresh app with a strong marketing plan built in, from the beginning.
  4. Do some market research before deciding where to invest our efforts.

To begin with I want to compare #1 and #2 only; I’ll look at #3 and #4 later.

The App Store Hit. Pick an idea, start developing, release v1.0 and then cross your fingers. ‘Ready for Sale’ in place of an actual product launch. That’s essentially what we’ve been doing. Hoping for a ‘hit’. I think this is the easy option for us – and maybe this view applies to some other indy developers, too.

Writing an app in my spare time, it’s almost free, no cost involved. I had the Mac and iPhone anyway… Putting time and effort on marketing? It somehow seems to cost more. It’s unfamiliar ground. It’s not my thing. Plus, part of the marketing plan might actually involve shelling out some cash. That would really challenge my confidence in both the idea and our implementation!

The truth is though, I’d be naive (insane?) to expect a different outcome if we simply ‘start on the next app’; I know that effective marketing is required.

So, why wait? It’s true that the release of a new product brings anticipication and excitement; there’s a buzz. The launch phase is arguably the best time to make a splash… But there are some advantages to start ‘marketing’ with our current apps:

  • The development work has already been done. With limited resources, I can focus my efforts.
  • It’s going to be a learning process. Doing that sooner rather than later will be useful for future projects – as I’ll know (slightly more of) what I’m doing from the start.

Of our three apps my hunch was always that Nudg’em had the most mass-market appeal. That was the one I thought lots of people will use this! However, given the data I’ve got, I feel that it’s Wafflr and Memed that could be more successful than they currently are; they’ve each had hints of being an appealing app.

Were it a choice between #1 and #2 above I’d put my effort into marketing Wafflr and/or Memed. I don’t have much experience here. I think I need to go through the learning process of trying a few things to see what impact they might have. I need to try some markrting.

What Next?

One success sometimes helps you to succeed the next time. Continued success breeds confidence. In absence of that, I don’t have a clear view on what to do next.

In Part 3 of App Failure, What Next? I’ll look at some ideas for ‘marketing’ our existing products.

In the final piece, Part 4, I’ll consider potential strategies for new development. The one thing I am sure of is this: if we don’t change anything in our approach, why would the results be any different next time?