App Failure, What Next? – Part 3

This article is part of a series in which I’m reviewing the approach we’ve taken in the development of our first 3 apps. Apps that have failed. I’m looking at what might be missing and the process of deciding what to do next.

Part 1 considered moving on. Current performace makes it clear that additional development effort would be a waste, but the lack of marketing was challenged.

To expand on this, Part 2 gave an account of how we’ve tried to promote our apps. Given the lack of data and feedback, I questioned how much we actually know about the appeal of these apps.

In Part 3 I’m going to consider some ideas for marketing an existing app. Additional, non-development work to try and improve the situation.

Consider the App, Drafts

Let’s start by looking at an example of an app became more popular/successful beyond its initial release. In this article from lifehacker, Greg Pierce, the developer of Drafts, tells that the initial launch was ‘OK’ but success was built over time:

“The App Store marketplace seems skewed to making a big splash on day one – and that’s great if you do. It’s also not the end of the world if you don’t. Drafts did OK on it’s initial release. It did better on version 2.0 and better still on version 3.0. It is possible to build a market over time in the App Store, even if it’s not the norm.”

I’m pretty sure Greg’s ‘OK’ was different to the performance of our apps, but there’s still an element of gradually building something good.

I’m encouraged by this. The gist of Part 1 in this series is that, going by the ‘norm’, we should forget these apps that failed to make an impact. But maybe it is possible to hit some success after a slow(er) start…

The Outline of a Plan

We’ve got two apps that have shown hints of being appealing; an indication that the original idea and corresponding implementation was good. Pick one. With the development done, start here and try to find out how good the app actually is. Invest some time and possibly, money, into marketing the app. If sales can be shown to increase, more development can be considered to further improve the app.

If sales don’t increase I’ll have to evaluate the following possibilities:

  • I’m not very good at marketing an app.
  • The product isn’t good enough, or is wrong in some way.
  • Both the marketing and the product are bad.

In that situation there’d be a sub-goal: I’d like to be able to say something about which of those statements is true.

As a fallback, if non of the goals are achieved, there will at least have been some learning in this area.

First Thoughts on Marketing an App

Learning as I go… Here are my initial thoughts – broad approaches that might be used to increase exposure and promote an app:

  • Be involved in the app’s domain, outside of the App Store.
  • Buy ads to drive people to the product.
  • Build reputation within the iOS ecosystem.
  • Improve App Store search.

Domain presence. Develop resources outside of the App Store, within the app’s domain, available to potential users looking for help, information, solutions, etc. For example, build a website. This platform can be used to promote the app.

Doing so takes considerable effort and it’s not a quick win. There’s a social element involved; interacting with people in the domain builds credibility and helps you to refine the things that you produce. But experience tells me that it’s possible. And, as far as a website goes, it’s also measurable. Traffic can be analysed.

Ads. Create a product page outside of the App Store. A landing page only? Perhaps a more comprehensive presentation of what the app can do? Ads can then be bought to drive potential customers there.

With Facebook for example, it appears to be so simple to advertise a page. Similarly, it’s easy to set up an Adwords campaign. Would those methods be effective? How much money would be required – and would that make sense considering the price of an iOS app? These approaches are easy to try and it should be possible to monitor the effectiveness of an advertising campaign.

The iOS ecosystem. Being involved in the network of developers, designers, bloggers and writers, making contacts and friends, gaining respect from your peers – can all be fun, rewarding, challenging and beneficial. There’s clear evidence of this.

However, it’s not possible to develop reputation and a network of peers overnight. It can’t be forced or worked on quickly. Respect is earned (most often) over time. I want any involvement that I have in this system to be genuine.

What’s more, the beneficial press focus and word-of-mouth, announcement-style exposure that can come from an earned reputation, tends to occur around product launch or major update. The intention is to defer additional development until some results are achieved with what’s already released; there isn’t any development news here.

App Store search. I’ve had some success with changing keywords to improve downloads – but the numbers have been too small to make a difference. Again, changing keywords requires a new submission and I want to focus on work outside of Xcode.

What Next?

I’m feeling positive about giving this a try. However, before I take this outline further, I want to go full circle and consider why our apps might have been flawed from the beginning. In Part 4 I’ll weigh up marketing something we’ve got against starting fresh.