Wrapping It All Up with a Marketing Checklist—Applying the 4P's of Marketing to Apps

Launch an app, tell everyone about it, hope for an Apple feature, and spread the word. The three key promotional aspects of marketing your app are Launch Blitz, Apple Features, and Word of Mouth. A developer has the most control with the first, very little control with the second, and indirect control of the third. All three feed each other, and using the 4 P's of Marketing: Product, Place (Distribution), Price, and Promotion will help in working these three aspects, which I've covered extensively in my seven part series, Applying the 4 P's of Marketing to Apps. This final post of the series will touch upon the loose ends of promotion and conclude with a spreadsheet you can download and use to make your own marketing plans.

Promotional Loose Ends

In this series, I've focused mainly on low-cost solutions that any developer has within their reach. For promotion, we've talked about launch prep and the Launch Blitz. Besides these areas of promotion, other paid advertising options are available. Over the course of our 9 year history, we've tried several of these promotions with varying results.

Google Adwords

The biggest hurdle with Adwords is gaining a return on investment (ROI) for a low-priced app, but it depends on how you are measuring the return. Consider this: a 99c app gives you 70c in revenue. If your adword campaign requires you to purchase keywords at greater than 70c, then, on the surface, you will lose money with an adwords campaign. But ROI on adwords is not that straightforward. Not all people who click thru will purchase your app, so only a certain percentage of clicks will translate into sales. In effect, you are spending more per sale. In addition, getting a high quality score on your keywords is difficult, so achieving a good number of impressions is difficult. The quality is based on your landing page, which is ever elusive. I must admit I've tried many times to achieve this with little success. If you have to hire a professional to evaluate your keywords and landing pages to improve your quality score, this cost will decrease your ROI even more. In addition, one of my biggest complaints is that your ads are not allowed to specify which device you support (i.e. “iPhone” is not allowed, as it's a trademark), so you will have a lot of non-supported device click thrus. If you support across many devices, this issue may not affect your campaign. However, if you can create a good landing page, get high quality scores on your keywords, adwords could be a successful campaign to gain more users, kicking in the Word of Mouth benefit. As a developer, you have to decide how much you are willing to pay for new customers. Cost higher than revenue is difficult to maintain on a longer term if you do not have a sufficient marketing budget and revenue. Therefore, I don't recommend Google Adwords for promotion of low-cost mobile apps.

Banner ads, Mobile ads, iAd and other Electronic Promotions

Online banner ads on websites and mobile ads on device can be an effective way to gain additional users, however, there is a steep price barrier. Many of the big sites charge thousands of dollars for these ads for a short run period. iAd has a $5000 initial purchase hurdle. The investment could pay off, but at 99c an app, to break even, over 7100 downloads would need to be achieved from a $5000 campaign. Again, if your goal is to increase the number of users for Word of Mouth, then this could be effective because one click could then equate to more than one sale in the long term. To work, however, you do need to start with a good quality app that people can get excited about. Using paid ads such as these could be useful for adding additional momentum to your sales as revenue increases, but it's a tough hurdle to cross at launch. If you do web banners, be sure to link to your iTunes page to minimize the number of clicks from ad to purchase.

In the past, we've bought banner ads on the ESD's (Electronic Software Distributors--old time app stores), which have been very effective in increasing our sales across all distribution channels (we've achieved 900% ROI in some cases). This campaign would have the same effect of an Apple feature. However, as the AppStore is the only iOS ESD, this type of campaign is no longer an option for iOS apps. If you sell on other mobile platforms, it would be wise to give these a try. The reason these are effective is that people visit the ESD to buy. The ad links directly to the purchase page and impulse buys are common.

Print advertising

We've also tried print ads in the past, but our pre-iOS apps (Palm OS) sold for $35 each, which helped with ROI. Print ads can be very pricey and the audience is limited to enthusiasts vs mainstream. However, gaining sales from enthusiasts can bring your app into the top charts or enhance Word of Mouth, so any advertising has some effect. However, the cost of print advertising rarely earns a simple ROI. First, unless you use QR codes, and everyone who buys your app follows the QR code, you will not be able to measure the ROI specifically. Second, the ads are rather costly.

The small “marketplace” type ads at the rear of the magazine are the most affordable, but several apps are crammed on the page with no editorial content, so unless someone is captively reading the magazine from cover to cover, your print ad could have little effect. A quarter page ad is more effective, but also more costly. In addition, if you do not have the graphical tools or skills to provide CMYK ad copy, an additional cost will be incurred.

A few notes on print ads however—pricing is always negotiable. Ask for volume discounts (run in a few issues) and first time buyer initiatives, as well as request “editorial content.” Magazines in general promise some sort of editorial content to its advertisers, so be sure to ask for that to sweeten the pot.

Keep in mind that advertising is not just a straight ROI. Besides customers and direct purchases, other influencers are affected by a good marketing campaign. Perhaps someone at Apple will see your ads and try your app, leading to an Apple feature? Or, a reviewer on a website or magazine will notice the ads on their site or publication and review your app. The review will then reach more potential customers. If you can afford it, designating an overall advertising budget will help your apps in the long term.


Joining a community of developers or users can also promote your apps. I follow a long list of developers on Twitter and engage with them frequently. I've attended conferences, which provide further networking opportunities. We belong to Moms with Apps and participate with them in their forum and in promotional opportunities. My husband, our developer, is active on Stack Overflow. I'm active with iDevBlogADay. Others attend local coding nights or user groups, which further promote your brand and products through networking. We've gotten great results with cross-promotional newsletters with a group of devs—each developer sends out a group newsletter to their own mailing lists. Communities can be very helpful in ideas, support, and promotion. Plus, don't forget a percentage of your customers are fellow developers and power-users.

Promos and Giveaways

Contests can get your brand noticed and promote word of mouth. Providing promo code prizes is useful, but don't overdo it, as this can become expected. A hardware or gift card prize can be very effective as well. Free-app-a-day type sites can gain a large audience of users for our app, but be careful: Reviews will be affected, especially if someone outside your target market downloads your app and gives you a bad review merely because the app was a bad match for them. In addition, rank on the free charts is short term—and it doesn't directly translate to your rank on the paid charts. In fact, you may lose some ground on the paid charts temporarily, after a free promotion. Giving away your app is more geared towards gaining additional Word of Mouth. Don't expect a direct ROI for these type of promos.

Reviews and Forums on App-Sites and Fan-Sites

Getting a review on a major App Review site is always a bump for sales. Many of the developers who post numbers show a spike after a review. Plus, Apple and other influences most likely monitor these sites. Keep in mind, however, that submitting your app for review on these sites is not always the best approach. Get to know the reviewers, the community, develop a relationship with reviewers and press. Then, when your app is released, you will have contacts you can talk to directly. Avoid paying for reviews—those sites are usually not held in high regard by users. Small sites are also good to get to know—they are more likely to review your app and may have fans that are more in your niche. The bigger review sites might pick up a review of your app from the smaller sites, which is a win-win for both you and the smaller site.

Many of the big (and small) sites also have forums. Please be sure to use proper etiquette when posting promotional information on these sites. If you have only one post, your intentions will be suspect. If you are a participating community member, posts will be better received and more effective. However, some sites also have a “new releases” or “press releases” section where you can post your announcements. Follow the forum rules and post where you are supposed to. No one wants to read spam and your posts will not be effective if they are regarded as such.

Gaming the AppStore

One word on gaming the AppStore: Don't. Paying for guaranteed ranks, creating or using bots to pump up your reviews or ranks, charging $999 one day for your app to rocket up the Top Grossing (people do it!), and other less than ethical ways of gaming the store will only provide short term gains. If you're serious about developing your brand and being in the mobile app business long term, don't do it. Once Apple revokes your developer pass, you're done. There are no guarantees for longevity, but gaming the AppStore will eventually guarantee going out of this business. Get rich quick will get you poor quick on the other side of the peak. Slow and steady wins the race. Make a plan and work the plan. Don't game the AppStore.

Summarizing the 4 P's

Having a solid marketing strategy is key to getting your apps noticed, but it doesn't have to be just spending a lot of money and hoping that you get noticed for an Apple feature. Stack your deck. Start with a good Product, choose your Price wisely and vary it effectively, create a great Place to showcase your app and keep Promoting it. Develop long term relationships with reviewers, colleagues, influencers, and users through networking and fantastic customer service. Cultivate Word of Mouth through continuous promotion, fresh product enhancements, and adding value. Follow the guidelines and the trends to make your app feature-worthy and appealing to your user base. If you can maintain a constant developing/marketing cycle and balance, you will have set yourself up for a successful mobile app business.


Please read the entire 4P's of Marketing for Apps series for insight on many ways of marketing your mobile apps. Of course we always appreciate your support of our apps (refer to the sidebar) and your feedback and comments are welcome. You can find me @justinepratt on Twitter. Leave a comment, tweet me, or send me a message using our contact form.

I've started a marketing checklist spreadsheet for you to use, that lists all the areas I've covered in this series. Feel free to download it and use/modify it as you wish, but if you wish to reproduce the checklist in a blog post, presentation, or print media, please credit Justine Pratt and Creative Algorithms as the source and include a link to our blog, Mobile Evolution: http://creativealgorithms.com/blog/ Thanks!

all posts for Applying the 4P's of Marketing to Apps:

Applying the 4P's of Marketing to Apps, Part I: Product
Distribution is the Place! Defining your Shelf Space—Applying the 4 P's of Marketing to Apps, Part 2a
Tackling Distribution Channels—Which Place? Applying the 4 P's of Marketing to Apps, Part 2b
Market Pricing – Perception is Reality! Applying the 4 P's of Marketing to Apps, part 3
Resist Launching Prior to Completion of Pre-launch Promotion Plans—Applying the 4 P's of Marketing to Apps, part 4a
Launch Blitz, Timing It Right – Applying the 4P's of Marketing to Apps, Promotion, part 4b
Wrapping It All Up with a Marketing Checklist—Applying the 4P's of Marketing to Apps