Mobile App Startups: Marketing

There are a lot of choices when it comes to marketing your app.

The first and most obvious is the old gold standard: with word of mouth. This can be achieved in a few ways: obviously, you can make a product so good that users just have to tell others about it (this is very rare, especially for a brand new app). If your app is a communication service, to an extent word of mouth is built in: if your users need other people to have it in order to communicate with them, they’re more likely to spread the word for you. You can also build a social aspect to the application (and according to the excellent Gamefication by Design, you probably should be anyway), which, if natural, will allow your users to invite others or just generally give social proof to others that they’re using your app. Finally, you can attempt to build buzz with a beta, only offering a select number of invites to give the impression of exclusivity.

After the tried and true word-of-mouth, one of our favorites is by building something people are already searching the App Store for. This reduces your marketing strategy to one of App Store Optimization, with a side of App Store Ads, if necessary. (Note: App Store Ads are not always worth it – you’ll need to review your average revenue per user to determine if the cost of acquisition through ads makes sense.)

You can also try social media awareness and advertising. This involves creating social media accounts for your app on Facebook, Twitter, and the like, and posting, inviting people to like, joining groups, and generally interacting with potential users. This can be extremely effective, especially if you’re offering something that saves you customers time or money – however, it can also be an extremely intensive process, which can easily soak up a large amount of time, energy, and money.

Another option is search engine optimization and ads. Sometimes people aren’t searching the App Store for your solution, but instead they’re searching the web. If your website comes up at the top of those search results, you could get new users that way. If you’re publishing your app on Android, you can create a campaign with Google that can automatically detect where to place ads for you, either on the store itself or in web search results. On iOS, however, you’ll need to do your own research and place ads with Google accordingly.

You might also try affiliate advertising. With this strategy, you connect with influencers or folks whose audience you’d like to reach and offer their users a discount that also gives money to the influencer – this creates an incentive for the influencer to talk about your product, and the users that come to the app through that person/organization get a nice discount while allowing them to support the influencer/creator monetarily when they may not have been otherwise. Because you’re getting paying customers, it a makes up for the money you’re paying the spokesperson, but if none of their audience uses the affiliate link/code, neither of you will make any money from it, so choosing your desired audience carefully is key.

You could also try for paid or earned news coverage – though, as a startup, earned coverage can be hard to get if you don’t already have connections to a reporter or news organization. Similar to affiliate marketing, this may or may not be effective, depending on if your potential users read the news organization your company is featured in. Most news sites, stations, and papers will allow you to pay to be featured as well – but again, choose wisely if you want to see a return on investment.

Marketing is an art and a science, and should not be taken lightly. Excellent apps have been made or broken based on their marketing strategy, and we highly recommend thinking long and hard about how you want to approach it – including speaking to experts on the subject.