How many times have you heard developers (even successful ones) say, “to make it big on the app store you need to either (1) be a big brand or (2) get lucky.” I would like to talk about that word “lucky”.
What do people mean when they say, “get lucky”? I think they really mean “featured” on the app store. Whether on a chart, the “staff picks” section—whatever, you somehow get on Apple’s storefront. Lets talk about that.
The app storefront is
not vital to your success
In a recent post I used some data from an admittedly unscientific survey to extrapolate that Apple’s storefront is not the most important exposure an app can get. I jumped the gun.
David Barnard of App cubby fame was kind enough to respond to that post and share some cold hard data, proving me wrong. Here you go:
I quote David’s email:
I don’t think that anyone has ever said that being featured by Apple is the *only* way to get attention, but for most apps it is BY FAR the best attention you can get. Developers who have been featured often joke about being hit by Apple’s money stick (and that’s really what it feels like).
Blogs and other publicity do help, but often they don’t help nearly as much as you’d think. A 4.5 mouse review on Macworld was such a little blip on the chart, I didn’t even bother noting it. Also, Gas Cubby has been mentioned on TUAW 4 or 5 times now. The only time those mentions seemed to have any impact was at the same time as Gas Cubby’s initial launch and the release of v2.0. It’s tough to tell how much of the boost had to do with the mentions and how much had to do with the launch/update. I also mention on my blog that $5k in Admob advertising was very hard to correlate with a meaningful increase in sales: http://appcubby.com/blog/files/financial_realities.html
So lets be very clear, the app storefront is the goal. Without it, it’s going to be tough for you to call your app a success.
But… you don’t get there by “luck”
David certainly wasn’t implying that he got anywhere by “luck.” In fact, in later correspondence he said:
Exposure in the App Store is incredibly important (whether by getting featured by Apple, or by clawing your way up the rankings), but that exposure isn’t just a wait and see proposition. I think that Apple featuring my app was a combination of good will I had built with them by being a “thought leader” and having created great apps. You’re also right that they seem to pick up on apps that have made their own splash.
We developers are not helpless. We still carry the majority of the responsibility, to:
- Create a purple cow, a remarkable app that people will talk about and Apple will appreciate.
- Market the app outside the app store…
In my experience, remarkable marketing take gobbles of time. This kind of marketing isn’t something you can just slap on at the end. Unless your app is just extraordinarily remarkable or unless you already have some clout, cold calling bloggers or review sites won’t yield too much fruit. Advertising has also proven largely ineffective. So what is left?
Social networking: blogging, tweeting, etc. In my experience, this can be very effective if used properly. Unless you have a huge following (like TapTapTap), the purpose of social networking is not mainly to build buzz directly (i.e. drive traffic to your app’s marketing site) but to become a thought leader in the tech community and build connections with influential people—hence, “social networking.” It may not even look like marketing.
For example, 6 months ago, when I first started iPhone development, I was a nobody. Now, after pouring my heart and time into this blog, somehow I’m receiving emails and getting mentioned by some of the most respected iPhone developers around (without any of my apps even being in the app store yet). This blog may not look like marketing but it really is. I’m starting to build connections with influential people. Eventually this will trickle up to the general tech community (i.e. Techcrunch, TUAW, etc.) which will not only get non-developers talking but will get me on Apple’s radar. Apple reads Gizmodo, TUAW, etc. Also, mentions on these sites should yield enough sales to warrant Apple’s attention. So then, given that my app is up to Apple’s high standards, Apple will notice it and promote it. I use the future-perfect tense because I have already seen this starting to happen and I’m betting my time and effort on it.
In other words, our marketing effort outside the app store is not an end in itself. It is a means to propel us onto the app storefront, whether by getting on a chart or by getting onto Apple’s radar.
I think it’s also important to note that apart from becoming a thought leader in the tech community you can also find creative ways to market your app to your target audience and have them market your app for you. I’ll get to that later.
App exposure is in fact the most important exposure you can get but it is not a mere matter of luck to get there. There are things we developers can do to boost our chances and those are the things we need to focus on.