It takes blood, sweat, and tears—or at least a whole lot of programming knowledge, late nights, and energy drinks—to build a good mobile app. With all the energy devoted to bringing something new into the world, however, it’s sometimes easy to forget that the world won’t see your creation unless you spend an equal effort in marketing it.
Every so often, an app builder gets lucky, and their app goes “viral” (a good candidate for 2014’s most overused term) without the need to spend so much as a penny on ads. But for everybody else, the cost to acquire a “loyal user” (i.e., someone who opens an app three times or more) on Apple’s iOS hit $2.25 in September, according to mobile marketer Fiksu’s latest Cost per Loyal User Index.
“This new high-water mark reflects the enduring trend of increasing activity and competition to capture loyal, engaged app users,” read Fiksu’s note accompanying the data. “Also evidenced in Fiksu’s usage tracker, adoption of the new iPhone 6 caused a flurry of activity—the new device has driven over 116 percent higher adoption than Apple’s last iPhone.” That $2.25 represents a 34 percent increase year-over-year, the company added.
Similar figures for Google Android aren’t much better: Fiksu estimates that it costs Android developers $1.00 in advertising for every app install, a tad below iOS at $1.23. For Android, that’s a 33 percent increase over last year, just behind iOS at 44 percent. Picture how many installs a typical developer might need to break even on a lengthy development process, much less continue to put food on the table, and you begin to see how advertising can quickly grow into a massive cost-sink.
So what’s a small, independent app-builder to do? How can you market your app without taking out a second mortgage on the house (providing, of course, you didn’t already take out a second mortgage to hire more programmers to actually make the app)? Here are some suggestions:
1. Build a Website or Blog for the App. The key here is to set up that website long before the actual app launch. The website can act as a portal for newsletter and social-networking signups, allowing you to alert a (hopefully) large audience that your app is available.
2. Meet the Press. Pitch your app to journalists and bloggers. An appearance on a popular and well-respected blog can do more for your app’s adoption rate than thousands of dollars in traditional advertising.
3. Promotions. You don’t have as much control as you’d like over how much you pay for advertising, but you have total control over the costs associated with your app. Consider special deals for your app—or even give it away for free, for a limited time. Contests could also spike awareness of your new product.
4. Partner With Other Developers. Launching a cross-promotion with other developers can multiply your reach.
5. Encourage Early Adopters. Enthusiastic customers can quickly become diehard brand ambassadors. Use Facebook, Twitter, and app-store comment sections to find and engage with customers, and encourage them (gently) to spread the word about your app’s capabilities.
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