You’ve made your first app!
Anyone in the app business knows that marketing an app is tough. And according to a recent article on TechCrunch, “Getting a mobile app noticed in the increasingly crowded mobile app market is more difficult than ever.” Some titles and concepts are truly unique. Angry Birds? Its title and screenshot alone were enough to catapult it to number one in Finland, according to Mikael Hed, CEO of Finnish game studio Rovio, which develops the game. Some apps are downright genius. Who doesn’t loath maintaining a to-do list? But now with Clear, it’s astonishingly fun! Who in the media wouldn’t cover something this clever? These two special cases were a shoe-in for the coveted feature page.
OK, so we have two apps that have leaped the giant “feature” hurdle and scored attention, much to the envy of countless wannabe developers. But not every app is an Angry Birds or Clear. And any developer surely knows that they are in extraordinary company — 91,754 iOS apps and 122,220 Android apps were released between 16 May and 8 September 2011, according to a recent Mobilewalla report. The researchers also found that during 2011, the number of available iOS apps increased from 338,000 to 589,148, while Android apps also more than doubled, from 115,000 to 319,774.
(Image credit: florianplag
The app world is becoming like one giant forest, millions and millions of trees. So, if one of those trees falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Sure, there are SEO tricks, word-of-mouth marketing tools and built-in demographic identifiers that might help move your product up the ever-growing search list of apps, whether the list is for books, games or lifestyle tools. Moreover, thousands of companies in the market today make extravagant claims of being able to get your app noticed.
Many developers fall into the trap of allocating tight budget dollars to quick “tech” fixes in a desperate attempt to lift their app above the crowd. However, in this age of digital distraction, one mechanism to help that tree stand out is a tried-and-true PR marketing campaign. And the best initiatives are those that involve choosing strategic partners, creating clever story angles that dovetail with newsworthy occasions, and running a cause marketing campaign and contest. This case study will cover some of these tactics and offer some of the lessons we learned along the way.
Case Study: David and Goliath
According to a recent article in Publishing Perspectives, “The children’s market is a huge opportunity within the digital publishing arena.” Jumping Pages, a children’s app developer, decided to enter this market with an expertly produced book app for children, the first interactive app version of the epic tale of David and Goliath. Based on the work of the team of artists, animators and programmers, the iPad app is filled with vivid graphics and 3-D and 2.5-D animation that runs with interactive components at the same time on the same panel. The reader is able to interact with hundreds of original assets: shoot arrows, catapult burning weapons, populate flowers. Shake the iPad to awaken the sleeping Goliath; sway the iPad to swing a hanging lantern; turn the iPad to change the character’s points of view.
The quality of the work was undeniable, so it was imperative to the developer that the app get attention. But how would the app be differentiated to the consumer, considering that a David and Goliath book app for kids already exists. Strike one. Moreover, regardless of its quality, the likelihood of the app landing on a feature page was slim, considering that most retailers are reluctant to highlight stories with religious overtones. Strike two. A final dilemma was how to make a story that has been around forever feel relevant in the crowded world of kids book apps. Strike three?
Not so fast!
Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid
From a production standpoint, the David and Goliath for iPad app was ready to launch in July 2011. The only thing that wasn’t ready was a plan of action on how to make some noise for a story that, for all intents and purposes, already exists as an app. This scenario holds true for many developers who are ready to submit improved versions of models that exist in various categories; there is a plethora of apps for weather, productivity and games (Who’d like to wager on the best poker app?). Many developers spend countless hours designing, programming and shaping their apps. They become so immersed in the product that they often drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and believe that their superior work will speak for itself and that word of mouth about their amazing app will spread quickly. Many developers with this mentality simply see no need to create a cool marketing plan around the app. Sounds like buying a lottery ticket.
(Image credit: stevendepolo)
Being proud of and confident in your product is nice, but better to be realistic about how to introduce it into the marketplace. Thus, after careful thought and shuffling around scarce budget dollars, Jumping Pages re-examined the landscape and decided to be smart about launching. The company set out to create a targeted and focused consumer marketing strategy. It decided it needed to implement an effective campaign in order to rise above the other book apps that were entering the fray in increasing numbers and to set itself apart from a version of the story that was already available. And because of budgetary constraints, it had no time for a protracted strategy. It’s first swing had to be a hit.
Finding the Perfect Partner
First, the company wanted an effective “marketing” partner, a narrator for the story who would help sell it. Ideally, the narrator would have a back story that was relevant both to the biblical tale and to the targeted demographic, and who would have broad media appeal (in order to be newsworthy). Jumping Pages reached out to baseball star and 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein to narrate the app. As many sports fans know, Eckstein has had a noteworthy career, overcoming his relatively short stature to achieve glory at the Major League level. Hence, the back story: a modern-day David whose life story mirrors that of the biblical David.
Upon arranging for his participation and partnership, the company moved the launch date of the app to October to coincide with the start of the World Series. Coincidentally, October 2011 marked the five-year anniversary of Eckstein’s World Series MVP performance; so, Jumping Pages created an “MVP Edition” of the book (same app, different narrator), which would be released to dovetail with the newsworthiness of the fall classic.
Being newsworthy is key, particularly when you’re trying to generate media coverage. Many developers view the mere existence of their cool app as being newsworthy in itself, but while the launch might be exciting to the developer, 99 times out of 100, it means nothing to a reporter or blogger. The main objective of a reporter is to speak to their audience’s interests and tie those interests to current events — presidential election, Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, the Final Four, the Oscars. Timing is everything when pitching a story. (Coincidentally, given the baseball spin, this article is timely because the annual spring opening of the Major League Baseball season in the US is a newsworthy event.)
Pinpointing an Audience
Additionally, in order to successfully market a new app, particularly a kid’s app, the developer has to strike a balance between reaching kids and their parents. David Eckstein fits the bill — a baseball hero to dads and sons who enjoy baseball together. Moreover, Eckstein was featured in the film Champions of Faith, so he appeals to those interested in biblical narratives.
Had Jumping Pages stuck with its original version of the app, the launch would have been too general, and the company would not have had an opportunity to reach a specific demographic. Many app developers feel that their apps are good for everyone — all moms or all kids, for example. Whittling down your audience to a very precise demographic is imperative. Reaching a niche audience, one that will respond positively to your app, is enough to spark word of mouth.
Triple Play and “A” Reviews
With David’s cooperation, Jumping Pages had a narrator whose back story matched that of the story’s protagonist — a star athlete tied to an newsworthy sporting event and who resonates with a specific demographic. Eckstein made for a triple play and thus gave the developer an opportunity for multiple story angles. The app was featured in over two dozen outlets using a variety of angles to appeal to enthusiasts of sports (Yardbarker), religion (The Christian Post), baseball (MLB.com) and technology (Wired and GeekDad).
Also, the timeliness of the World Series gave app reviewers a reason to talk about the app in October. The strategy was effective, and reviews were posted far more quickly than normal. All developers appreciate how important early reviews are, given the usual time lag. The app was praised: “like watching a Disney production,” “… animation is picture perfect and it made me want to read the story again and again,” “…is outstanding with fantastic, vibrant animations and images….” It continues to receive impressive reviews.
Cause, Demo and Contest
In addition, through Eckstein’s involvement, Jumping Pages had an opportunity to incorporate a cause marketing component into the launch. Eckstein’s charity of choice, Bags of Hope, helped promote the app to its members and Facebook fans. Next, with Eckstein’s involvement, a public reading and demo of the app was arranged, part of a post-launch strategy that would keep the app top of mind during the approaching holidays. A demo and reading of the app featuring Eckstein and his wife, Ashley, took place on November 30th in a Manhattan Apple store, during the start of the hectic holiday shopping season.
Finally, Jumping Pages sought a contest partner to run an iPad giveaway (iPad being the number one requested gift for the holidays and the platform of the David and Goliath app). It approached Smart Apps for Kids, a leading review website for children’s apps, to be a partner. The contest, which ran the week before Christmas, garnered over 1,500 new fans for Jumping Pages’ Facebook page and generated excitement for the app and for the developer during the critical last-minute holiday shopping period.
Hits the Mark on the First Shot
The founding of Jumping Pages and the launch of the David and Goliath app were a success. The high praise, along with the company’s achievements in development and marketing, have enabled the company to move forward on two forthcoming apps: an original interactive story that teaches kids and parents respect for the home, and an interactive musical app for kids, both set for release in the spring of 2012.
Rather than haphazardly launch its app or throw precious dollars at risky online maneuvers, Jumping Pages has demonstrated that a thoughtful, strategic and patient approach usually works best. Many app developers rush their product to market without considering the consequences. These days, with the overwhelming amount of information and the number of apps, the more carefully a developer plans their strategy, the more likely their product will launch successfully. And like David, they usually have just one shot at getting it right! Thanks to its partnerships, creative story angles, newsworthy connection, cause component, contest and patience, Jumping Pages did it right.
Keep these points in mind when planning your strategy:
Launches work best in pairs! Choose a partner whose background gels with your app. For example, Ruckus Media just announced a unique partnership with New York City’s PBS station for the “Cyberchase” app in its math series.
Find a way to tie your app to a current news or seasonal story. News outlets themselves know this better than anyone: just this month, the Washington Post launched a presidential election iPad app.
Don’t play to a stadium. Rather, cater to an small meaningful audience. Talking about specific audiences, there are even apps for nose-pickers — as well as lawsuits for alleged patent infringement on those nose-picking apps!
Share the wealth by helping a needy organization that fits your app’s demographic. This one really woke me up: did you know you could donate $0.25 to charity every time you hit the snooze button?
Incorporate unique ways to address and engage your audience. Self Magazine, a leading women’s lifestyle publication, is unveiling a mobile app game of its annual Self Workout in the Park, featuring fitness, health, fashion games with avatars, virtual goods and puzzles.
© John Casey for Smashing Magazine, 2012.