iPhone appstore marketing – old school marketing rules apply

What's the primary difference between a brick and mortar mall and an online marketplace for both buyers and sellers?

The buyers are able to instantly search and discover desired products and sellers are able to target their services to buyers who are most likely to search/discover their products. While location is critical for the success of a store in a brick and mortar mall, it doesn't have any significant impact for sellers in an online marketplace.

The appstore is more similar to a brick and mortar store than it is to an online marketplace. Discovering apps is painful for users and making the apps more discoverable is even worse for app developers. iPhone users don't typically search for apps (search in appstore is not the best either). Users install the apps which are either listed as the top 25 apps in a particular category in the appstore or the ones which are featured by appstore's editors.


There are several interesting blog posts out there, which talk in detail about increasing the appstore rankings. These rankings are based on the number of downloads in the last few days (with today's downloads given the highest weight). Many app developers use in-app advertisements from companies like TapJoy and AdMob to boost their downloads. faberNovel from France has explained "how rankings work" in detail here: http://www.slideshare.net/misteroo/how-to-market-your-app

Getting featured by Apple:

There is no secret sauce here, except to make an app really "interesting". If the app is unique and interesting, the editorial teams at Apple are always on the lookout to highlight those apps for the users.

Brick and mortar approach:

I want to highlight that app developers can take lessons from old school marketing to succeed in the appstore. Imagine you're are a retailer and are deciding to open a store in a new shopping mall near your home. The highest order bit in that decision would be the location of the store. Location also decides the price a retailer would pay because there are fixed number of stores in the mall.

In a mall there are three types of stores:

  1. Large department stores like Macy's (Nordstrom, JC Penney, etc.) open a large prominent store either near one of the entrances of the mall. These stores depend on both location and their advertisements for bringing the buyers to their store.
  2. Other retail brands like Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch, etc. which have one flagship store in some section of the mall. These stores depend primarily on their advertisements (their brand) to bring buyers to their store.
  3. Coffee shops like Starbucks often decide to open multiple coffee shops throughout
    the mall (say one near each entrance of the mall.) These stores depend
    primarily on their location in the mall, to bring buyers to their store.

image from www.flickr.com

The app store is not much different from a mall. Each of the
categories (Entertainment, Lifestyle, Games, Navigation, Reference,
etc.) serve as individual sections of a mall. Users typically browse
only a few categories on the appstore, when they're browsing for new
apps. If your app is not a top app (overall) or is not present in a
category browsed by a particular user, then that user is unlikely to
discover your app.The ideal approach could be to launch a portfolio of apps (often in different categories) and try to cross-sell the apps.
Pick three or four primary categories where your apps could fit (say
Games, lifestyle and entertainment) and develop three apps instead of
focusing on just one app.

image from www.flickr.com

Most app developers often don't have an established brand or large
advertisement budgets, so the most optimal strategy for them would be
akin to #3 above. Larger established brands often take approach #1,
where they launch a high profile app (say NY Times) and promote it on
their website. That app could become the #1 app in one category (say
News) and users who browse the "News" category on the app store would
discover the app. However, they'll still miss out on millions of users,
who never browse the "News" category. The key would be to choosse two
or three categories in addition to news and launch apps in those
categories. For instance, NY Times could launch a politics trivia game
under the Games category and  a "What happened on this day in the
past?" app in the Reference category in the app store.

Sometimes launching multiple apps in the same category could be effective as well. Several game developers launch multiple apps either under Games or Entertainment categories and cross-sell them heavily to drive downloads. It is important to note that real estate is limited to top 25 slots (most users only browse for the top 25 apps), so having two or three apps in the top 25 means that your competitors would have to fight for a slot from the remaining 23 slots.

Net net, taking the "Starbucks" approach of launching multiple apps is likely to generate more awareness and downloads for apps instead of taking a Macy's approach and focusing on just one flagship app (at least until the "discoverability" problems are fixed in the appstore.)


ps: Thanks Mike Schneider from www.hivebrainsoftware.com for sharing some of these observations earlier this year.

ps: photos are used under Creative Commons from flickr.com