The chink in the armor of most of the developers who are looking to retire rich by creating apps is marketing to users. It may be that you are able to learn how to create some independence. You might even have decided whether the lone wolf or the sexy startup is right for you. You might have even figured out how to iterate App development quickly, but you're not done when you release your App into the App Store. It takes more than being available in the App Store to be successful, that's when it's time to put on your marketing hat—or buy a marketing hat to put on.
Sitting On a Store Shelf
Just because a product is available doesn't mean that it will automatically sell itself. Just because your application is in the store doesn't mean that it will sell. In fact, there are thousands of apps that are in the store with nearly zero sales. You don't want this to be you. If you want to sell your app and retire, it's going to take getting out there and doing some marketing.
Marketing is not a skill most developers have been taught or even understand. Development is a world of rules and if … then …. The world of marketing isn't repeatable and just because it worked some way last time doesn't mean it will behave the same way the next time. However, once your application is launched it's marketing that will make it appeal to others—and convince them to buy.
Appealing to Everyone, Appeals to No One
In marketing, the key to success is targeting. The goal is to fine tune your value proposition and your messaging until it resonates inside your target audience like a tuning fork. The problem is that the more broad you make your message—so that it appeals to more people—the less likely that it will compel someone to want to pay attention to your message. Your prospects will get tired of listening to what isn't important to them and will fail to listen to what is important.
The goal in marketing—no matter how you choose to do it—is to get people to pay attention. Although some people like to claim that we're in an information economy, we're really in an attention economy. We can get information via Google or YouTube, but how do you get attention?
Unless you're already a celebrity, getting attention is the problem that everyone has. You can try to cut off your ear like Van Gogh and see if the media picks it up—but chances are even that wouldn't get you attention today. It takes more than short-term gimmicks in today's world to be noticed. If you want to get attention in the first place—and you've already got your message refined—you'll want to start with friends.
Word of Mouth Is Worth It
We live in a world of referrals and reviews. Friends tell their friends about the things that they like—and then their friends in turn often like it. That's why including the ability to share that you're using an App from inside the App is so important. You want every users' friends to know that they're using the App. Making it easy to share their success with the App is a key way that we spread word of mouth today.
Word of mouth as an approach leans on social networking to create the buzz that your App needs to get going, but unfortunately if you don't already have a lot of people who you can communicate with you may not be able to get the critical mass to get the engine started.
What used to be literally the conversations between people to promote a product has slipped into the social world but the limitations are still the same. Even though someone recommending your app on their timeline may be useful, it's highly likely that you and your friends won't have the reach necessary to make this process sustainable. If you assume that only 10% of your updates are seen by your friends and that only 1% of your friends will respond to a post, you have to have 1,000 friends for even one other friend to download and use the application. If you can't get enough people to start the process, you won't be able to get much in the way of word of mouth marketing.
When I created The SharePoint Shepherd's Guide for End Users I had a network of roughly 1,000 people. Of those, many (maybe 100) were fellow Microsoft MVPs who in turn had thousands of people who followed them. Although many of my friends posted about their love for the guide, we didn't really get much attention to the guide until we started doing email advertising campaigns. In fact, our first email advertising campaign returned as many inquiries in three days as we had received in the entire previous year of marketing. The lesson for me was that word of mouth marketing is a great starting point, but it's not enough.
Notification Is Not Enough
Even though the actual number of times that you need to send the same message to someone before they respond to it varies based on the source, everyone agrees that you have to continue to be in front of people before they will respond. Whether it's 10 times or 1,000 times to make a difference, repetition of message and "being there" matters. There were several of my friends who for years didn't know that we sold The SharePoint Shepherd's Guide for End Users as a corporate license, including step-by-step videos. As crazy as it seems, even in acquaintances and friendships the message about the guide was lost. They weren't able to get past the idea that the guide was a book.
So, the question when it comes to marketing is not just how many people can you get to see your message. The real question is how many times can you get people to see your message so that you can cross the threshold and be visible.
Obviously, adding social sharing features to your application are important but how do you keep in front of people enough to reach critical mass? The answer can be in the form of free giveaways either as added benefits to your app (think free lives), temporary access to features that are typically reserved for paying members, or it can be content that the user may find useful. Everett Rodgers in Diffusion of Innovations says that adoption is based on: relative advantage, compatibility with the existing prevailing system, a lack of complexity, the ability for someone to try it and go back, and the ability for others to observe what's happening. Your application has to have some unique value to the user, has to run on their chosen operating system, has to allow for it to be uninstalled or service fees to be stopped, and must as we have already discussed make it easy for users to share.
Sharing becomes social advertising. It's getting folks to promote—or place an advertisement—on their social network for your app.
Adding to the Number of Ads
If you don't have the social network following to pull off the kick start into relevance, you might spend some money buying ads in other similar tools. Your App revenue might be built in part on the financial rewards of in-App ads—others may have based their financial model on this as well and as a result they created a way for you to get the word out about your killer app.
It's not that you can't have a killer app without doing ads. It's not that you have to buy ad space, it's that when you do buy ads you dramatically increase your exposure and as a result you increase the possibility for others to notice your application. Think about how many times you've leaned over to a friend to ask them what app they're using because it caught your eye—and you had never heard of it before. Don't let a lack of awareness thwart your dreams.
After the Release
There's no phase of making money with the development of apps that gets less attention. Nor is there a better way to invest your time between your first app and the next one than marketing and trying to better understand the market. Don't forget to cross the finish line.