In my quest to learn more about how to market Android apps, I scoured Amazon looking for the top books. I discovered a handful of titles, but one in particular stood out to me: App Savvy. Although by internet standards the book is a tad old (published in 2010), in comparison to most App Marketing books, this one had solid reviews. This post will investigate whether the theories presented in the book are still relevant today, and more importantly, whether they can be applied to Android apps.
App Savvy’s theory on marketing your app revolves around the idea of a crescendo. You should begin communicating with potential customers from right out of the gate. As you develop your app, you should continue to involve them in the process. Then, once you are ready to release the app, you will have built up relationships via Twitter, blogs, and other social media. This way, when you are ready to reveal your app to the world, it’s a much more natural climax than if you were to save all of your marketing until the end or not market the app at all.
The author of App Savvy, Ken Yarmosh believes that marketing is a process, not a tactic. I agree with him on this. If you want to survive in the app world, you have to be in it for the long haul. So it makes sense to also think about how you will build your marketing into your app’s launch. It’s silly to think that you can spend six months or a year building something in secret, and then when you launch, people will automatically care about what you’ve built.
The ideas in App Savvy stand against the notion of building in a vacuum. The opposite of building in a vacuum is working with your customers throughout the whole process of app development, and that’s what this blog post will show you how to do.
Before Your Build, Validate Your Idea
Ken Yarmosh, a graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, is an expert in the startup culture. He believes that marketing your app is similar to marketing other products: your product should be driven by what your customer wants. That isn’t what they taught me in my business school, but the idea makes a lot of sense. You need to talk with potential customers to see if what you are building is even worth your time.
I made the mistake of not talking with potential customers with my app, Phone Tracks. I built it in a vacuum, released it, and just expected people to want what I wanted. Operating in a vacuum has the potential to completely waste your time and money. If customers don’t want it, wouldn’t you want to know that before you spend time and money on development? Startup culture turns this idea on it’s head by making it a requirement to “validate your idea” with your potential customers. In the famous words of Steven Blank that means “Getting out of the building and talking with customers.”
This idea of building what the customer wants dovetails nicely with Yarmosh’s overall marketing strategy: work hand and hand with the customers, show them your iterations, let them see mock ups, let them beta test, and throughout the process build an audience. You engage the customers not because you are throwing ads or other marketing collateral at them, but because they are collaborating with you in this process. They are engaged because they are helping you shape your product. Then when the app is released, you’ll have cultivated relationships with people that already know, like, and want your product (or so the theory goes).
Ultimately, the buzz from social media, outreaches, and PR stunts will fade. A more long-term strategy would be to create a product that customers actually want and are willing to talk about. Then passionate customers will continue to promote you. This is difficult, but it all starts with talking to people in your demographic. If you are interested in learning more about validating your idea, I recommend you check out Steven Blank’s book, “The Four Steps To Epiphany.”
Now that you have a little background on Yarmosh’s philosophy, let’s jump into the details. How does he propose that you gradually crescendo your marketing? What tactics does he recommend? And are they still relevant now?
Phase 1: Discover Customers & Form Relationships
The whole idea of Phase 1 is to keep your lines of communication open between you and your customers. You want to start establishing those relationships by providing value and engaging with them. One simple way to do this is using Twitter to find thought leaders and potential customers. Yarmosh recommends tracking what is happening in the development community by listening to thought leaders via Twitter. He recommends different Twitter clients to use (Hootsuite, TweetDeck, etc.) and listening for specific keywords. For example, if your app is about brewing beer, you can add a stream in Hootsuite that shows all tweets of people who use the words “brewing beer app.” You can then engage with people who are talking about topics related to your app.
While these are good tips, one thing he doesn’t mention is that you can gain a good following simply by answering questions. Twitter, like most social media, revolves around being considered valuable. If you can be of value to someone, then they will more likely follow you. Assuming you do this with the right intentions, answering questions is a great way to offer value.
I’ll give an example from another niche that I find myself in, the Paleo diet. The Paleo diet is observed by a tight-knit community of people, and it’s growing by the day. When someone starts eating Paleo, they have tons of questions. Naturally, most of these questions end up online—including on Twitter. If I wanted to know whether balsamic vinegar was Paleo or not, I could write a tweet and get a response within a few minutes. Those people who responded were willing to give, for free, information that would help me. That made them valuable to me. If you want to become valuable to your Twitter followers, consider the strategy of asking and answering questions.
The second part of Phase 1 is reading and keeping up to date with the industry. Personally, I’ve found this hard to do on Twitter because there is so much noise—too many tweets at once, especially if you start building a list of followers. You’ll probably waste time trying to sort through information when you are on Twitter. Google Reader makes keeping up with industry leaders much easier. My strategy is to keep a short list of Android blogs that put out fantastic content. I keep this list in Google Reader and look at it once a week. This can also help you monitor your competition.
In a nutshell: Dive in, get your Twitter account, and assess your industry and competition. On Twitter, start tracking keywords you want to target and try to help people out —this will help you integrate into the community.
Phase 2: Build a List and a Landing Page
Yarmosh recommends starting some email marketing at this point. Your goal at this stage is to capture email addresses by creating a landing page for your app. As Brian Clark from Copyblogger eloquently puts it, “A landing page is any page on a website where traffic is sent specifically to prompt a certain action or result.” In this case, your goal is to capture email addresses.
Yarmosh explains that paid advertising is a cost effective way to build your list. Even at $5 to $15 a day, you can gain some traction, he says. Now, I’m no expert when it comes to paid advertising, but I doubt the costs would be so low. I suppose that whether the cost is reasonable or unreasonable will depend on what keywords or features you are looking to track.
Yarmosh also recommends numerous tools and offers several examples for how to get started. He recommends the tool Unbounce for creating splash pages. If you have a WordPress website setup already, you should consider getting Premise. Take a look at their splash page to see if it convinces you to buy.
Here are some landing page examples that I have saved in my Evernote account:
- Mutual Mobile – Attractive landing page that offers free white paper for email address
- Polar – Friendly and fun landing page
- Tripwire Magazine – 40+ landing page templates to get you brainstorming
In a nutshell: Start building a mailing list by creating a landing page and driving traffic to it—use free methods but also consider paid advertising. Check out Unbounce or Premise to create sweet landing pages for your app and look at the examples above to start brainstorming.
Phase 3: Begin Blogging and Recruit Beta Testers
At this point in Yarmosh’s process, you are already building your app. This means you have some assets like screen shots that can be used to further tease and entice your potential customers. He encourages you to share your early screen shots to get people excited about your impending launch.
He further recommends that you start your blog at this point, stating “There’s no better way to start blogging than to start blogging.” This is good advice to get you in the game. Blogging can be a little overwhelming if you’ve never blogged before, especially since concepts like SEO are constantly in the headlines. I like Yarmosh’s advice because it’s biased toward action, and anything that you are consistently acting upon you can improve if you put a little thought into it. If you want to see this for yourself, take a look at some of my earlier blog posts. Lots of bloggers say this because it’s true. You’ll improve, so don’t stress out about it.
Yarmosh’s book doesn’t dive into details about what to write your blog on because that could be a separate book itself. But in my opinion, you should have a variety of posts. You want to have some posts that explain where you are in the process to entice people to stick around, and you want to have other posts related to targeted keywords or features and benefits. Lastly, you can create content related to your industry or niche.
So let’s say your are developing a stopwatch app called TimeKlock. Here are three headlines you could use, each of which has a different focus:
- Early Sneak peak at TimeKlock Design (the process)
- Why a Simple Stopwatch will Prevent Procrastination (keywords/features and benefits)
- Swatch Releases New Thought-Powered Watch (the industry)
Now, I’m attempting to boil a blogging strategy into a few sentences. But the truth is it’s easy to obsess about it. Yarmosh’s advice—that you just start blogging—is sound because it will get you going. If you want to learn how the pros blog, check out these two sites: Copyblogger (advice on how to write better blogs) and Hubspot (advice on inbound marketing—they sell inbound marketing software).
Recruit Beta Testers
At this point, you should attempt to find some early adopters though your social media. You’ll want to get a list of them ready for the next phase. I recommend that you use Google Forms (a hat tip to the lifestyle business podcast for this idea). Google Forms makes it easy to embed a form on your website. People can fill it out and all the data goes into a Google document for you to sort and view. It’s super easy.
While recruiting beta testers is easier for iPhone apps, it’s a little more difficult for Android apps because not all of the software is compatible with Android yet. This will change. But in my experience, it was difficult to find beta testing software that worked with Android. Test Flight is popular beta testing software for iOS, but it still doesn’t have the capability to test for Android. (Although, you can sign up to be a beta tester here: TestFlight Android.)
In a nutshell: Plan and start your blogging strategy. Work on recruiting some beta testers using Google Forms.
Phase 4: Build Your App’s Website and Reach Out to Media
During Phase 4, you’ll be shifting into a launch mindset as Yarmosh describes it. At this point, you should be close to wrapping up your development. You will begin to do a variety of tasks that will help you get ready for your big push (Phase 5). In Phase 4 you’ll make sure that everything is in order for your app’s climax. You’ll also be reaching out to bloggers to spread the word about your app.
The first step he recommends is writing “launch content.” This kind of content consists of blog posts that you will withhold from publishing until your app is approved for the app store (or Google Play Store). While Yarmosh doesn’t go into a lot of detail about what to write about, he does mention that you should write about the features you might add moving forward.
But how do you actually continue to engage the audience after your app is out? Talking about upcoming features can only take you so far. You should also continue to incorporate blog posts targeting specific keywords as well as posts about the industry. By doing this, your blog will encompass the bigger picture rather than just promote your own products. Also, you will probably want to keep blogging on a regular schedule, at least twice a month to keep people coming back.
Before launching your app, the app’s website should include the following:
- A device – For Android apps, I recommend using a picture of a Samsung Galaxy S3. This is currently the most popular phone out there. If your app is targeting a more techie Google crowd, however, consider displaying your app on the Nexus 4. This device is a pure Google experience that geeks (including myself) have been swooning over. Use the Device Art Generator to create quick device screenshots of a Nexus 4.
- Teaser test – Provide something to the effect of “coming soon.”
- Social Media links – Link to your blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, etc.
- Email sign-up form – Compared to your landing page, you do not want this sign-up form to be prominently displayed. You want the app device and your teaser to be featured. But have this in case people want to sign up for your mailing list.
- About & Contact Us Pages – These pages are important for any website. They allow users to quickly learn more about your company, and it gives them a method to contact you that’s separate from social media.
This pre-launch list is slightly different from what you’ll include in your post-launch website, which signals that your app is ready to be downloaded. This version of your website should have more personality and structure to it based on the finalized version of your app. Here are some items you will want to include:
- Updated Device Image – Yarmosh recommends having a much more dynamic image on the post-launch site. Consider using an image slideshow that cycles through a few of your screen shots. I recommend Gickr.com to do this cheaply.
- Features & Description – Be careful not to go too heavy on the text here. Think about this like you would a PowerPoint presentation. People don’t want to read huge blocks of text. Keep your features & descriptions bulleted if you are having trouble.
- Price Tag – This isn’t always necessary, and most apps are going to a freemium model anyway. But then again, if your app is initially free, that might be a good selling point.
- App Store Button – Although this book was for iOS, it would be important to show your Android affiliation again by displaying the logo with a link. You can get several variations at Google Play Logo.
- Additional Screenshots – If you have more than what you used for the GIF, you can include them elsewhere on the site. Yarmosh recommends thumbnails that expand when you hover over them. Similarly, you could include any video footage you may have of your app.
- Media and Customer Quotes – Yarmosh recommends adding customer quotes to your website. I think this is a fantastic idea. People are heavily swayed by social proof, and having testimonials taken from your customers or from the media can add a lot of credibility and value to your product. Also, you may be able to use some of the ratings you get on the Google Play store.
- What’s New – Describe what is in the latest version of your app. Highlight features added, bugs killed, or any other key changes.
- FAQ Page – This isn’t required, and I don’t know if it’s really that necessary. Unless you’ve been saving common customer complaints or questions that you can answer easily, your app website probably doesn’t need this.
Also, in Phase 4 you want to reach out to bloggers who would be interested in doing a story about your app. Yarmosh recommends that stories are more important for larger publications than for smaller bloggers, so don’t over play your story. I think that’s solid advice. Most bloggers who write app reviews probably get pitched pretty consistently though, so you’ll need some way to differentiate yourself. But don’t go crazy with the app’s background story. Most people ultimately only care about themselves, so make sure you pitch to bloggers in a way that speaks to them.
Yarmosh also discusses how to pitch your story. Basically, you want to write your email as a cover letter. First, you need to show how writing about your app will add value to the blogger, or at least describe how you heard of them. Ken recommends the line “Been reading your stuff for many years now.” This is obviously generic. If you want to spice it up a little bit, try adding some specifics, like “I particularly enjoyed reading your post on the Android Design Guidelines. I had no idea the action bar was so different from iOS’s navigation bar.” This demonstrates not only that you are familiar with a specific example of the blogger’s work, but that you’ve taken the time to think critically about it.
Yarmosh then says: “I wanted to drop you a note about my latest iPhone app ‘tweeb.’ It’s focused exclusively on twitter stats and includes click data from bit.ly/j.mp links shared in tweets. Would love for you to check it out. Feel free to drop me a line with any feedback.”
Again pretty generic, but the key here is that you want to keep it short and actionable. You’ll also want to add any assets you have like screenshots or videos. This can be compelling, especially if you’ve got a slick design.
Yarmosh suggests that the timing for sending these pitches out is important. Larger sites will have more developers pitching to them, so they may need more time than smaller blogs. One of the benefits of developing for Android is that the Android approval process happens quickly, often within 24 hours. Unlike the Apple approval process, your chances of getting rejected are quite slim unless you violate one of their terms and conditions.
In a nutshell: Go over the pre- and post-launch website checklists and make sure that you have everything ready to go. Make a list of 20-40 bloggers to reach out to in your industry. Create an email template, then customize it for each pitch and send pitches to the bloggers on your list.
Phase 5: Launch Your App
By this point, you’ve done all the hard work. This stage is all about making sure that everything runs smoothly. Yarmosh has a checklist to help developers ensure a swift and successful app launch. Here is the list:
- Notify your media contacts – Yarmosh recommends sending promo apps out to the bloggers that agreed to review your app and that you let them know your app has been approved. This stage is unnecessary for Android since the approval process happens so quickly. And since the process happens so fast, you should send emails to your media contacts a few days before you submit your app.
- Deploy post-launch website – Now you can publish your post-launch content. Most importantly, you’ll have your link to the Google Play Store, which should be added to your website.
- Publish a blog post – Announce that your app has been approved.
- Notify other contacts – Ask family, friends, etc. to check out your app.
- Get ratings reviews – Reviews are key to getting downloads, so make sure to ask your friends, family, and key media contacts to leave an honest and fair review of your app. This will help your app gain some traction.
- Adjust app store description and website – Yarmosh recommends placing some favorable reviews at the top of your description. This is a good idea, but it might be difficult if you don’t have many to choose from right off the bat.
- Send email newsletter – Don’t forget to notify your mailing list that your app is ready to download.
So, That’s It?
Yes. The main idea of this process is that throughout your app’s development, you show your potential customers what you are working on. The final push should simply be a natural extension of all the other work you’ve been doing. If you hadn’t made friends on Twitter or been blogging this whole time, you wouldn’t have any of that traction.
App Savvy’s approach to marketing will likely last longer than most tactics you see online. It’s essentially how to build a better product and how to establish relationships with people who are genuinely interested in your app. This is a long-lasting approach to marketing. But I do have some concerns.
Concerns with this Approach
Relationships aren’t exactly scaleable, so you have to be smart about how you decide to implement this into the marketing strategy for your app. It’s possible for you to follow the phases above and achieve success with one app. But what happens when you have five apps or ten apps? If you try to manage ten blogs or Twitter accounts at once, you’ll drive yourself crazy, and you won’t be able to establish those relationships like you can when you only have one account.
This book turns me toward an important conclusion:
If you want to keep your sanity and continue establishing relationships, you have to consolidate your app marketing. Click here to tweet this quote.
You need one blog and one Twitter account for all your apps. This might sound like obvious advice, but when someone is building his first app, the last thing he thinks about is how this current app will fit in with the next nine apps he makes.
If you are planning on only making one app, you will have a much lower chance of making a decent return. If you just want to build an app for fun, then Yarmosh’s strategy might be okay for you. But most of us want to make apps because we’d like to see a little return. To do this, you need to build your own app family.
Take a step back and think for yourself. What do you want to achieve with your apps? Are you looking to have fun? Are you trying to gain some business skill? Are you seeking other tech enthusiast? Do you want to make a side business out of this?
If you want to make apps for profit, you need to seriously consider a long term branding approach. Having ten different Twitter accounts or blogs doesn’t make sense. You’ll need to come up with a unifying theme for all of your apps. This theme might just be carried by a business name—and that’s fine. But you need to tie your apps together so you can cross-market them and continuously build on the previous app’s success.
Should You Read App Savvy?
App Savvy will give you a basic understanding of how to build an audience around any product, but the advice is specific to mobile apps. This book is more of a foundation upon which other marketing tactics may be built. Establishing relationships with your customers is the baseline of marketing efforts.
In future posts, we will discuss more tactics to fine tune your app marketing. But in the meantime, I highly encourage you to check out Ken Yarmosh’s book, App Savvy.