Developing an app is only half the battle. Once you’ve shipped it you have to sell it. And changing hats from developer to marketer can be hard.
Marketing is a very different skill set than developing. Marketing is much more than buying an ad or a sponsorship. Marketing involves storytelling, connecting with others, getting the word out, building conversation, and more.
Perhaps the biggest difference between developing an app and marketing it is this: control. When trying to market and promote your app you simply do not have the same control as you did when you were developing it.
As the developer you have 100% control of your app. The design, functionality, user experience, feature set — they are all within your control and are simply a matter of building and implementing. Some aspects of development come easier than others, but even if you hit a brick wall you at least have the confidence you can conquer it even if by sheer force and man hours.
Marketing, however, is not fully in your own hands. You don’t have that same control to get what you want or need in terms of exposure, sales, adoption rate, positive feedback, etcetera.
I remember the morning I published “Beginning” — the announcement that I was taking shawnblanc.net full time. I remember sitting there with my mouse cursor hovering over top of the Publish button for about 5 or 10 minutes. I just sat there. Because up until that moment my plans and ideas for taking the site full time had been 100% under my control; they were bulletproof. But, as soon as I made my announcement, then it was no longer under my control. It was in the hands of all the readers and potential members.
Shipping your idea is scary. Marketing can be intimidating, frustrating, and cold hearted. The best way to tackle it is with honesty and gusto. Stop worrying about what you can’t control, and go full-steam with spreading the word about your app in the most personal, thoughtful, and inviting way you can.
There are many possibilities, ideas, and dynamics that go into a successful marketing campaign for apps. So much so that entire books have been written about them.
I want to focus on just one element: emailing online media sites to let them know about your new app.
Once you’ve launched your new app, you should at least start by emailing your friends and family. Ask them to check it out, and let them know that next time they’re in town you’ll buy them lunch in exchange for them buying your app and giving it a good rating in the App Store.
The more downloads and positive ratings that your app receives from users then the better the chances of being automatically promoted from within the iTunes App Store. Also, new and potential new buyers will look at the average ratings and read the reviews before they buy.
Once your friends know about your new app, you’ll want to let blogs and online media know about it. This is perhaps the single best thing you can do in terms of marketing. And in my experience a lot of developers do it wrong.
I regularly get email from people letting me know about their new app or service. These emails can be summed up into three general types:
The Copied and Pasted Email
You can spot these from 30 feet away. The biggest giveaway is how my name (“Dear Shawn,”) will be in one font and then the body of the email is in another. These emails usually are too long, too impersonal, and are wanting me to do a review.
I understand that sending personal and specific emails, one at a time, is time consuming. But sending impersonal emails is flat out a waste of time.
The Personal but Shy Email
This is from the developer who feels like they are inconveniencing me simply by emailing me. They are shy about their app and a bit embarrassed to promote it.
To them, I simply say that it is okay to be bold and excited about your app.
The Sincere, Personal, and Bold Email
This one’s just right. The email is personal and thoughtful. They know who I am (or at least have done enough homework to fool me), and they are very excited about their app.
Here are my recommendations for best practices when pitching your new app to someone via email:
Start with your favorite bloggers and podcasters. Write personal, thoughtful, and specific emails to each of them. Give them a promo code (or two — one for themselves and one for them to give to a friend). Tell them why they might like your app and give a few quick points about why. Don’t give an entire feature list, simply mention some previous articles of theirs and touch on why you think your app would be interesting to them in light of what you know they have already written about.
Don’t shy away from pitching it to the seemingly small guys. A lot of the writers and editors who work for the mega-sites (such as Macworld, Ars Technica, Engadget, TUAW, Mashable, et al.) are just regular bloggers who happen to read the smaller guys’s sites.
In The Social Network the way Facebook got adopted by Baylor was by not allowing Baylor students to sign up. Instead they opened up access to the smaller, surrounding schools and once the friends of students at Baylor were getting access to Facebook then the Baylor students wanted in, too.
Once you’ve emailed your favorite sites, find the rest of the larger, influential sites. Write them specific and thoughtful emails as well. As Craig Mod suggests:
Be thoughtful. The goal is to appeal to editors and public voices of communities that may have an interest in your work, not spam every big-name blog. A single post from the right blog is 1000% more useful than ten posts from high-traffic but off-topic blogs. You want engaged users, not just eyeballs
Which is why, at the end of the day, the single best thing you can do is make an app that people will want to use.
Good marketing gets people to show up the first time; a good product will get them to show up the 2nd time and the 3rd time.