A No-Nonsense Guide on How to Market Your New Mobile App Without Wasting Time or Budget
Building and launching a new app carries a unique set of challenges and risks, particularly when your app lives in a competitive space. In 2019, most mobile apps are living a competitive space- but one that is also innovative and that rewards creativity and honesty.
Marketing your mobile app can be tricky. It can be hard to stand out in a competitive space, and often, apps are created by designers, developers, and engineers that are experts in their respective disciplines but lack expertise in marketing.
Once your app is designed and developed, it’s marketing that will make it successful.
This guide is meant to serve as a basic template that you can build your marketing strategy. The strategy called out here is the definition of basic but boring marketing, but it works and is based on proven techniques that will build subject matter expertise, niche authority, and most importantly, your install base.
In order to keep this article from turning into a mile-long blog post, I’m going to focus strictly on three main points: creating a marketing foundation, building app awareness, and driving traffic to your app.
This guide will “give you the basics” that will serve as a good first step. It also assumes you’ve already done your due diligence, validated your idea, and determined your business model. In other words, you’ve done everything but the marketing.
Sound awesome? Let’s dive in.
Build the Foundation
Successful marketing starts with a good foundation. In general, this means:
Understanding your target market
Creating branded materials, media, and collateral
Creating a fantastic app store experience
Having a great website designed to showcase the app
All of your marketing will hinge on these foundational elements. Make sure you have these things locked down.
Understanding Your Target Market
The messaging that a 47 year old investment banker finds interesting will be vastly different than a young college graduate. Knowing how to reach these people is an important component of your marketing.
Start off by identifying why someone would use your app. Is it for help or reference? For entertainment, or for work?
Understanding the needs of your users will allow you to shape a message that resonates with them. Spend the time needed to get a clear picture of how and why people are choosing to use your app (or an app like it).
Chances are that you have already done a deep-dive into your niche and its demographics. If so, you should already have a good understanding of who your users are likely to be. You should know:
The age, gender, and geographic location of your users
What interests or affinities they have (high-level)
IE – Finance, video games, yoga, etc.
Lifestyle, habits, and recreational interests
Determining demographic information is a rabbit hole that you could really dive into. For now, focus on those three points as they most significantly will shape your messaging, brand voice, and targeting.
Once you understand your target demographic, you should then look at finding ways to be present where those people tend to be. A younger audience is more likely to be on YouTube, Snapchat, or Instagram, while an older audience might be more readily accessible via Facebook or Google search.
Create Branded Promotional Materials
There’s no faster way to kill interest in your app than to promote it with low-quality media and ho-hum experiences.
You want to showcase your app as best as you can, and often the best way to do that is to invest in good quality graphics, promotional videos, and website/content experiences. Cutting corners here could cost you big.
Start with the basics:
Create an awesome app icon – Your app store listings will look their best when you feature a creative and engaging icon. Be bold. Be different. Be interesting. But, most importantly, be memorable. Use interesting shapes, colors, and imagery to differentiate your app. This is one area where it may be valuable to be a contrarian- if you see your peers all going in one direction, try something completely different and see if it resonates.
Showcase high-quality screenshots and media – Whether your app is a game or a calculator, high-quality screenshots will go equally as far. Each screenshot should have a purpose, and its intent should be obvious. Point out key features and benefits, and make it easy for users to imagine themselves using your app by using engaging imagery that shows the best of what your app has to offer.
Demonstrate what your app can do with a promotional video – If a picture is worth a thousand words, what’s that make a video worth? The bottom line is that a good video is a must. A good promotional video will not only shine on the app store, but on YouTube and your website as well.
These media assets are your virtual salespeople, living on the web and on app stores, tirelessly working 24/7 to drive downloads. Invest in them, and make them awesome!
Users have a high expectation for the quality of media they consume. I recommend finding a talented graphics professional or team to work with and having that person/team do all of your media. This will ensure everything is consistent and on-brand.
Invest in Your App Store Experiences
Your listings on the Apple App Store and Google Play, along with other alternative app stores, are a critical part of what will drive your apps popularity.
Optimize your app store listings. In fact, app store optimization is big business and there are plenty of firms out there that will be happy to help you.
But, before you start investing in people or companies to improve your app store rankings, it’s a good idea to start with the basics that you can do yourself:
Research the keywords someone might use to find your app and ensure they are present in the name, title, and description of your app listing.
Encourage reviews (and respond where appropriate) – Showcasing trust and quality by having tons of positive reviews is a great way to climb the ranks. Invest in strategies designed to curate user reviews, and don’t forget to respond to feedback (both good and bad) to let users know that you care about their experience.
Show off your awesome videos and great screenshots – This is where that awesome media we just talked about will really shine, after all.
Improve your app store conversion rate value (downloads) by split testing variations of your listing that try different creatives, messages, descriptions, or all of the above. Try different designs, images, and verbiage- and pay close attention to how these changes influence downloads.
View your app store listings at landing pages that you should constantly be analyzing to see how to improve. Never get complacent.
Launch a Great Website
And by “great website”, I don’t necessarily mean the prettiest one. The goal of your website should be to convert a visitor into a download/user. The rate that your website does this is called its conversion rate, and the most important job of any website is to have a strong conversion rate.
There are a million ways to build a website in 2019, and rather than go on and on about that, I’d rather summarize a few important things that your website should do:
Encourage action – Your website should be geared towards encouraging an action (whether that’s a download, a purchase, or something else). The top part of the page – the part that appears before someone has to start scrolling or swiping – is called the hero area. Hero areas are best used when they feature a strong call to action (CTA) paired with a compelling benefit statement.
Answer user questions – Include a FAQ area that addresses common questions new users might have. Provide clear and thoughtful answers, and ensure that it is easy for users to find the answers to the questions they have. Make it easy to get to the FAQ section.
Provide help – Show users how to use your app and take advantage of its functionality. Also, provide a clear method to help users solve problems/troubleshoot the app where appropriate.
Be mobile – More than 60% of searches are done on a smartphone. Make sure your website looks awesome on mobile.
Be SEO friendly – Search engine optimization (SEO) is a great way to drive new downloads/users to your app, but it can take a while to kick in. It also requires your website to have certain technical, formatting, and content best practices put into place. At the very least, your website should follow on-site SEO best practices so that it can start to drive traffic from Google.
Keep your website simple and to the point. Use a content management system, like WordPress, to make ongoing maintenance much easier than a typical HTML/CSS site.
A Simple, Cost-Effective Marketing Strategy That Works
With your marketing foundation in place, now it’s time to actually start promoting your app!
There are a million different ways to market and many different types of advertising available. Knowing which is best for you can take time, investment, and data.
If you’re just starting out, it can be overwhelming to determine which marketing techniques to utilize and which tactics are best for you. That said, you need to start somewhere. The sooner you start, the sooner you can start collecting data about what works/doesn’t work. This data will help you refine your approach moving forward, improving performance and profitability.
But where do you start, and how much do you invest?
I recommend that startups and newly-developed apps focus on a basic but boring marketing strategy that is low-cost and easy to scale. This basic but boring marketing strategy focuses on five core areas (in order of execution):
Once you’ve got those five core areas mastered, you can then add Google Ads and Facebook ads to amplify results.
App Stores (Including Some Great Apple/Google Alternatives)
Everyone knows about the Apple App Store and Google Play. However, they are not the only games in town. There are dozens of alternate app stores that you may find worth exploring.
True, these stores are not as popular as Apple’s or Google’s first-party stores, but they still have a large audience and can drive many downloads and sales for you.
And, if you want to cast a really wide net, there are dozens more stores out there- some of which are huge in international markets, such as China.
Even if you aren’t interested in some of the smaller alternative app stores, listing on the Amazon App Store is always a good idea.
Get your mobile app reviewed by industry experts and app review websites. Focus on review sites that have an audience and decent social media following.
You also want to focus on review websites that will provide you an honest and unbiased review, as you may find the feedback valuable in improving your app experience. Users will also appreciate a genuine and honest perspective on your app- these types of unbiased reviews are very effective at building trust.
Review websites often charge for a review (reviews from us start at $129, for example), but this is money well spent as long as the website in question has an audience and can drive traffic to your app download pages or website.
Wondering how to tell if a website is worth working with or not? Here are a few things to consider:
How much traffic does the website receive? Ask for traffic data from the past year, broken down by month.
How big is the website in question? A site like BAPS, with hundreds/thousands of articles and more than 20,000 unique visitors per month (not pageviews, visitors), is more likely to drive traffic to you vs. a new site that is just getting off the ground.
How do they typically handle reviews? Are the reviews generally positive/one-sided, or are they impartial and critical? While it’s tempting to go out and “buy some good press”, ultimately Google will devalue a website like that and the value of the review is lost. Focus on sites that tell it like it is.
How big is their reach? More than just traffic, you should also look at other metrics that indicate their reach. These include social followers (Facebook and YouTube are best) as well as email list subscribers.
Is their audience looking for what I’m offering? Focusing on specialized review websites will yield a stronger return on investment, even if their total reach is smaller. This is because the more targeted and relevant they are to you, the more likely it is that their users will download your app.
Reviews also help your SEO, as reputable websites featuring your app/brand is a strong quality signal for Google. A few good reviews on popular app websites can really rocket your website up the ranks!
Aim for at least a half dozen reviews from quality websites. This is money well spent and will also help manage your brand’s overall reputation, which is always a good thing.
With a few reviews on reputable websites live, it’s time to kick your marketing into high gear via influencer marketing.
You’ve probably heard of influencer marketing already. It’s been a “thing” since about 2016 but really grew into something huge in 2018. Expect its influence (ha) to continue to grow.
So first, let’s address the most obvious question: what the heck is an influencer?
Simply put, an influencer is a figure (think: person, place, or thing) that has a large public profile/following.
That stay-at-home Instamom with 350k Instagram followers? Influencer.
That app review YouTube channel with 25k subs? Influencer.
Mom blog with 250k Pinterest followers and 25k/mo website visits? Yep, you guessed it- an influencer!
Now, here’s a secret: ignore the “big” influencers and instead focus on “micro” influencers when you first start your marketing efforts. Why? Because they tend to charge a heck of a lot less than bigger influencers.
And, interestingly enough, it’s the smaller influencers that tend to generate the most engagement from their audience. This is because their audience tends to be more involved with the influencer, and vice versa.
When working with influencers, make sure to:
Have your brand and website called out in the post
Get a link to your website from their website, blog, and social accounts
Clearly outline the advertising, scope, and cost – make sure everyone is always on the same page
Set achievable timelines
Offer fair compensation that provides value to both parties – don’t be stingy
Your goals will determine how you evaluate success. In general, you’re looking to:
Promote brand awareness
Increase your reach (grow social audience, newsletter subscribers, etc.)
Boost your SEO
In my experience, influencer campaigns are most successful when they are paired with an incentive, such as a coupon code. This will also help you track how many downloads/sign ups/sales each influencer generated.
High-level guide to working with small influencers:
Small influencer = under 10k subs, or a small blog with fewer than 20,000 monthly visitors
Budget: $100 – $200/engagement
Aim for: blog post + social media promotion of said blog post
Success is measured by: app store page views, downloads/sales, audience growth, link to website (good for SEO)
I love to find 3-5 influencers with small niche blogs and engaged social accounts and do a coordinated promotion. This can really work out well, especially if you choose influencers that have complementary skill-sets or audiences.
If you’re promoting a kids learning app, for example, you’ll want to get your app on mom blogs, teacher resource websites, and parent-focused Facebook groups. All three audiences will find value in your app, but each will approach it from a different angle.
Find smaller influencers that have engaged audiences. They’re more likely to be receptive to your pitch, and they’ll cost a lot less, too!
Growing your social channels is a great way to create long-term engagement in your app. A good social media marketing strategy involves understanding your audience and connecting with them.
Equally as important is understanding your value proposition in the eyes of your audience.
Very few viral campaigns actually “hit”
Viral doesn’t necessarily mean engagement
Fewer but more targeted fans/subscribers is more valuable than numerous but disinterested ones.
My social strategies tend to follow a formulaic approach at first. My go-to approach is a basic education/value-add content strategy paired with video. If budget is available, I’ll also commit to a small Google display/remarketing play or a Facebook ad campaign.
An example content/social mix for a newly launched app:
1-2 blog posts/month on website
With a video to support that is published on YouTube
4 posts/week on Facebook
Most recent blog post featured at least once per week (as appropriate)
1-2 links/posts to other resources/channels that offer value to audience
1-2 links/posts to notable content (such as image gallery, link to a video, or some other type of valuable content)
$100/week paid ad budget
$50/week – Facebook campaign driving clicks to grow Facebook page.
$10/week – Ads to Facebook subs driving clicks to app store listing.
$30/week – Google display campaign targeting relevant websites
$10/week – Remarketing
This type of strategy, while not free, is inexpensive and allows you to start collecting data about the effectiveness of your landing pages/marketing messages/etc. Optimizing these efforts over time can dramatically improve campaign effectiveness and profitability.
If you are budget-limited, or don’t totally understand how you want to approach social, start “small”
It has never been easier to create video that shares a story, delivers a message, or teaches a new skill. For the DIYer, there are many free or low-cost tools that make building video a breeze. If you’d rather throw a bit of budget at it, you can find inexpensive video creators on Upwork or Envato.
I believe that video is the best way to really connect with your audience.
Building a great brand video – one that showcases your app and mission in a thoughtful and honest way – is always a good first step. But keep the message on point, and avoid making lofty claims or setting expectations higher than what your app can achieve.
In other words, be open and honest about what you are offering your users.
You can run video ad campaigns on YouTube that are cost effective and targeted to your ideal audience. The best part is that you only pay when enough of the video is watched. If someone skips your ad, you don’t pay.
Investing a small budget in growing your YouTube channel is a great idea if you intend to grow that channel organically over time. If video is a part of your strategy, absolutely invest in its growth. But if you are unsure, invest the budget elsewhere.
The keys to a successful video ad campaign on YouTube are:
An interesting, eye catching, and otherwise notable first 5 seconds
A product or service that is related to the channels/videos your ad campaign is targeting
A thoughtful message that resonates with the viewer
Using tools like Animoto, it’s never been easier to make a snazzy video. Make some great content- video is powerful!
The last 2,800 words or so have effectively been about a pretty simple three-point message:
Invest in your brand
Build great landing pages on your website and app store listings
Drive traffic to these experiences and pay attention to what happens
This type of strategy could perform well for a few hundred dollars per month and can help build early adoption and sustained growth in both your install base and overall reach.
Your Action Items
First: establish your marketing foundations.
Learn about your audience needs, interests, and demographics
Create branded promotional images, videos, and other materials
Have a great website that drives users to the app store to download your app, teaches people how to use your app, and provides a “home” for new/prospective users looking to dive deeper
Next: execute on a simple but effective education-focused strategy.
Make sure your app store listings are designed to convert readers into new users!
Post helpful content, how-to’s, FAQs, hacks, and other fun content on your blog
Get review websites and social communities engaged with your app
Work with niche/industry influencers to get your brand shared with their audiences
Execute on a social media strategy that helps elevate the content you’re creating
Build a following on YouTube via funny, engaging, and helpful videos
Execute on the above in the order they are listed, as each piece builds on the efforts and successes of the elements before it.
App Marketing Checklist
No guide would be complete without a downloadable checklist