10 June 2013

Application store discovery - business model and marketing are vital

Getting found in application store space is becoming increasingly difficult, your application is like a needle in a haystack. This post discusses how to improve your chances to succeed in your application business.

Application stores give you visibility - or not

Today, Apple App Store has over 900000 applications and 850 new ones are released every day. Google Play for Android devices can show similar figures, and following these two, there are several other stores expanding their footprint. At least seemingly similar type of applications are fighting to get your attention. As as example, there are over 2400 racing games and over 850 notes & todo applications in App Store.

Application stores seem to be good examples of the long tail concept, and store revenues are very heavily accumulating to the most popular items, see also the picture below. This has intensified the race for top positions and launching of an application has become more expensive, even millions of dollars has been put to market one single item.

When you aim to succeed with your application business, the target is thus to get plenty of attention or secure monetising by some other means.

In doing that, you cannot escape the basic premises of the business, i.e. you need to well understand, what customer job you try to solve, how your solution does the job, and then create an application with great implementation, user experience and usability. We shall discuss, how to improve your odds to succeed in application world from three interlinked perspectives: What options and opportunities are business model choices, effective marketing activities and application store optimisation giving to you.

Business models and applications

Finetuning a business model or creating a totally new innovative one is probably the best way 
to save time, money and other resources in boosting your application business performance. User purchasing an application is a baseline, but here are some examples of other options.

Sharper focus on needs to be served and consequently on customer segments to be targeted may be a good option, because product functionality will probably be more limited and thus also development costs lower. It also helps in targeting marketing messages to right, more receptive audience and makes it easier to optimise store presence for increased attention and conversion in selected niches.

You may select to let a publisher to take care of most of launch and marketing related activities, in return of possible revenues. Publisher business model resembles that of a venture capitalist: he bets on multiple cases and hopes that at least some of them will hit the home run and bring in significant returns to cover losses caused by majority of the cases. For an application developer, publisher can contribute its connections to customer base, money for promotional activities and generic expertize in launching applications.

It is difficult to compete against something free - like 56.2 % of all Apple store applications are.

Freemium model that allows users for free download an application and to experience capabilities and features, removes a barrier to pay for something not tried and tested before. Customers will be charged for being able to unlock new features, remove use constraints or advertisements (in-application purchasing). In games extra game levels or virtual game content need to be purchased. Games have been leading the pack in freemium utilisation, but it is becoming more and more popular in other areas, such as utility and business applications, too.

Bait and hook model is a variation of freemium model, where something is given for free or very lower price in anticipation to get future purchases. Beyond freemium model above, it can be used by giving a customer some digital content or service (or even low-cost physical product) as a bait, hoping that this would generate future revenues to cover the costs.  Or this could be turned around, an application could be a bait to get customers hooked to something a company actually wants to sell.

Free application based, monetising through advertising is well developed, with conventions and ad networks well in place.

Subscription model can be far-fetched for most of application developers, but at least for digital publishers and content providers subscriptions make a lot of sense.

You can also look for sponsoring companies that would either want to create goodwill among their customers or create some other benefit by offering your application, with very low or no price. 

Linking application to wider offering is a good way to unlock other monetising options. If your company has other products or services that can use an application to create tighter relationships with customers or offer them some new service elements, you do not need to sell the application, you just monetise it through existing offerings. An application developer, missing this kind of internal backing option, can look for companies, whose existing businesses could improve their competitiveness or add value to their customer offerings through your application.

In cases, where application is part of total offering, consisting of also a physical product element, there is a possibility to boost application discovery through visibility and promotion of the physical  part. Customers can be charged via physical product, application, possible service part of the total offering or combination of these. Also freemium can be combined with this monetising model.

Beyond some pre-arranged promotion options, using solutions to build cross-platform mobile applications helps very little in attracting customers. The upside of the solutions is getting wider possible audience with less effort.

If you have a solution that can create hype and desirability, through crowdfunding you can  get publicity, pull in pre-orders and start to generate positive word-of-mouth.

Application marketing

Marketing bridges your offering and business model to user discovery in application store by driving  potential customer awareness and interest in your application. Decisions on business model, and of course, depth of your pockets, will affect what activities will be feasible and possible. Most of the tools have been widely used in other businesses, but for application context there are also some very focused ones.

Most important thing is to start creating attraction towards your application early enough. Social media activities with targeted customer groups are the tool to make this happen, with plenty of relevant forums, review sites and industry influencers available. Inbound marketing activities, where you are using your own web and mobile properties with compelling and useful content, provide a lower-cost alternative to put a strong watermark to selected potential customer communities. And do not forget continuous testing and optimisation of your web presence, that will help you to make a quantum leap in your results.

If you know or are able to connect to someone who has extensive following (emphasise quality more than quantity) in your target groups, consider using him. Send these influencers an early copy of your application and try get them engaged and involved in your other marketing activities. In-application messaging can also be used to identify your possible evangelists. In case that you have more money available, celebrities can be used as lighthouses to give you more publicity and visibility.

Promoting a future game (or widely speaking an application) inside a game that is already widely in the market, is an excellent way to reach people that are definitively interested in these kind of products. If your company has proper games in house, great, for others there is a possibility to use 3rd parties and pay them. 

There are special application promotion companies that are willing to promote you - to what extent depends on your budget.

Events that promote also your application serve you well, assuming that you reach big enough footprint with a potential partner. Selection of partners depends on type of your application, e.g. conference organisers and physical retailers like fast food businesses can be lucrative.  Also look for opportunities to participate in online events.

Creating merchandising around your application, e.g. T-shirts, plush toys or other giveaways, will cost you money, but if you have good ideas, how to use them in connection with other marketing, go ahead. If you are able to gather plenty of following in your application business, you might be able to turn money flows in merchandising around.

Even more money is needed to advertise in mass media, but larger companies have already began to use TV, movie theatres etc. Look also for cross-promotional partnership opportunities with media companies.

Application store optimisation

When you have a great business model in place for your application and you have been able to drive visitors to desire and download your application, you have a good basis for application store optimisation (ASO).

Because application store search is the number one source for people to discover new applications, optimisation process that aims to improve visibility of an application in a store can reward handsomely. Specifically, ASO is targeting to ranking higher in search results and to reach relevant top chart rankings.

From optimisation perspective, all application stores are a little bit different. As an example, in Apple store it is important to find right keywords without spamming with too many variations, in Google Play optimising the name of an application is vital and in Amazon you can apply to be featured on storefront.

ASO relies on many of the same tactics as apply to successful search engine optimisation, too. The starting point is to understand your users, how and when they interact with your application and what competitors´  applications are competing on their attention and time. Mobile analytics tools are rapidly developing to give you actionable information on that.

Based on gathered insights, you need to pick up a good name for your application, keywords describing it and right category for an application. For this, there are also some tools available. Do not forget your icon, first screen shot or application description, either.

Your key success indicators (such as downloads or getting 5-star ratings) make basis for continuous improvement, where you make changes to your in-store presence (your metawords, description, application category etc.), test them e.g. through A/B testing and take best new things into use. Best luck!


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