NSConf15: Marco Arment – App Marketing For Small Developers

My notes from Marco’s talk at @NSConf [video].

Credit: Flickr / Joe The Goat Farmer
Credit: Flickr / Joe The Goat Farmer

Hopefully convince you to consider marketing in apps.

Truly effective marketing is a respectable part of business. As necessary as good engineering, and good design. Refusing to consider is just doing yourself and your apps is a disservice.

Marketing is fine. Even good. We need it. But we need the right kind.

Ensuring your app fits into a viable market, getting people to notice it, and giving them a reason to spread the word.

Waterfall is a widely despised development process.

We think the best products come from collaboration between engineering and design and product. But still expect marketing to be bolted on to the end. But this is not a recipe for quality.

What is your marketing?

A lot of developers think that the app store is your marketing. It will do marketing for us. We just need to put it out there and the app store will make customers flood in and give us money.

Maybe working for the top grossing ones. But chances are we are not going to be in this list. We treat the app store like we are waiting for this to happen to us. This is not going to happen.

We rely on what? Search. Generic search terms are really bad. Overcast is 21 in list for “podcast”, no-one will find it. Especially with so many irrelevant results.

Advertising can be part of marketing, but probably not best channel, especially if you don’t make enough per user.

1% response rate, $4 per user acquisition. Even a $5 app will make a loss. Can’t make it work.

Marketing is part of the process for Apple, part of product design.

Apple doesn’t need to do that much with marketing, because they make products that market themselves.

Marketing helps avoid wasted engineering effort. It doesn’t “just happen”, foreseeable if start thinking about things at the beginning.

Idea to do a podcast app for iOS. Scratching own itch. Most ideas are awful, talk self out of them, but kept going.

Made a demo app, and it works. But knew turning into a full shipping app would be a ton of work.

The lure of a difficult engineering problem is dangerous. Think effort will be rewarded. Reality is that nobody cares.

“The amount of effort you put into something doesn’t ensure it’s value to others”

Marketable foundation of the app has to succeed. Look at what succeeds, many of them take a lot of effort, many do not.

Try and balance developer happiness with success: a few hard things, and a lot of easy things.

Hard things:

Instapaper: text parser, kindle hacking.

Text parser really worth it. Kindle, not so much. Not marketable.

Podcast: custom audio engine.

Not sure marketable, had to make sure the rest of the app was marketable as well.

Started with a basic marketing outline and basic research. Sounds like a business BS term. Probably is. Think of it as a text file full of notes and bullet points.

  • What am I making?
  • Who might use it?
  • How many of these people are there?
  • What else is out there? What is your competition?

If no competition, this is a massive red flag. This is a pretty big world, there are a lot of apps out there. Should ask why you haven’t found it. Or the market is too small, for whatever you are thinking about making.

Big competitor: do they have some massive advantage you can’t compete with? E.g. network effect.

“It’s like popular thing but for X”

Lots of competition for this. Opportunitistic. A lot of people think they have some great idea for something that already exists, with just a tiny change.

E.g. instagram for dogs. Why not just use instagram for your dog pictures?

What you want to see: some small, medium sized apps. Maybe they don’t do it all the way, or don’t do a really great job of it.

Why would someone use my app instead of the alternatives?

The answer to this question is marketing. Big part of it is pricing.

Factors not causing low app prices:

  • Apple
  • no trials
  • no paid upgrades
  • top charts
  • bad search
  • star reviews

We live in a time of over-abundance, every single market is crowded.

So much out there, so easy for new stuff to be ignored.

Paid-up-front-pricing. Appeals because we don’t have to do much. Avoids tricky issues, and tricky coding. Avoids support issues.

Really big downside: Paid upfront prices give a lot of people a reason to ignore your app.

Can still work, but you face this hurdle for every new customer.

If you can make your app look free, that’s better. Will have to compare on other factors, like your merits.

Ideally want to be recognised by name. Avoid a lot of these challenges entirely. Not comparison shopping, they are looking for your app. Avoid so many problems.

How do you do that? This is marketing.

Speading the word

  • Advertise all over eyeballs
  • Blast email all over people
  • Make people connect all over your brand
  • Optimize all over the app store

(Replace prepositions with “all over”, see if still makes uncomfortable. it usually does.)

Stand out from the crowd. Using design. iOS7 visual language much more accessible to developers. Much easier to stand out and be good, because much less cost in doing that.

Have notable features. If you can do that, you can stand out with noticeable features. This does not mean the most features. If you have all the features, very hard to make them stand out.

Knew wasn’t going to have all the features anyway, because other apps had years. Wasn’t going to match it. Concentrated on small number of big features to stand out.

Downloaded all the apps could find. Took pictures of every screen. Used it for a while. Wanted to know what they were good at, what they were not good at. Made an honest pros and cons list.

If you don’t make these comparisons, customers will.

For every advantage, is it compelling enough that people might use your app just for this?

How easy would it be for the competitor to erase this advantage?

Enjoy the big-company strategy umbrella. Apple focuses on the 80%, if you can live on the edge of that, can still be a big market.

Wrote giant marketing bullet list. Before building any of the app, just had the prototype. Before even built the app.

Smart speed – invisible feature. Recipe for a thankless job. The better it works, the less people notice it. Wasn’t first to market, RSS Radio was, but no-one mentioned it. Did a better job of marketing it.

  • Gave it a descriptive but catchy name
  • Made it prominent in the app
  • Show people why it is good

Bring in testers

  • Bring in testers. TestFlight has a 1K user limit. Use as many as you can.
  • Invite the press (gently).
  • If you can’t get more than a few users to try it for free before launch, red flag!

A lot of features look like, here are some options. No explanation. No tooltips on iOS.

Took a nameless feature and branded it.

When was done with the app, marketing was done. Knew how was going to sell the app.

Very simple stuff, if you plan for it from the start.

Here’s what I made, this is why it’s good, try it if it’s good.

Reviews knew what to focus on, reviews knew what to focus on.

Combining not just eng and design from the start, but eng, design, and marketing. Eng and design need each other, marketing ties everything together to make a more successful product.