The Next Leap: Distribution strategies for your app

How can you drive downloads for your apps? This instalment of ‘The Next Leap’ will focus on how developers can effectively market their apps

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It cannot be denied that mobile apps form the backbone of consumer technology today. With roots in both the old-school paradigm of computer programs as well as the new one of portable, any time Internet access, mobile apps have enabled new tech advances such as wearable technology and smart, connected homes and offices.

Given the importance of apps in the tech scene nowadays, it stands to reason that app development is a very promising field of entrepreneurship. The popularity of simple apps and games like Flappy Bird only serves to underscore this point.

However, development is only part of the equation. What is the point behind developing a great app if nobody uses it? Here, in the fourth of ‘The Next Leap’ series – an e27 & Samsung Developers’ knowledge sharing collaboration, we take a look at how developers can make use of various channels to market their app to the public.

appstore

Image Credit: Nata-Lia/Shutterstock

Get the most out of app marketplaces
Ah, app stores. Whether Samsung’s rebranded app store, Galaxy Apps, Google Play or iTunes, app marketplaces offer a gathering point for end users to download apps, as well as a ruthless arena where apps compete for eyeballs as well as downloads, and where fortunes are made and broken. The trick, then, is to make sure your app gets noticed.

We’ve all heard about search engine optimisation (SEO), which is a catch-all term for methods designed to improve the ranking of a website in Google (or any other search engine). For apps, there exist a similar term: App store optimisation, which is the same concept as SEO, only applied to app marketplaces.

App store optimisation doesn’t just work for massive app stores like Google Play or iTunes; in fact, it is even more important if one wishes to list an app on a smaller app marketplace such as Samsung’s Galaxy Apps store. Samsung, recently rebranded its Samsung Apps as Galaxy Apps, giving the store not just a new name, but a new interface, and adding hundreds of new apps, exclusive to Samsung Galaxy mobile devices. The apps also have been categorised into Best Picks, Top and For Galaxy.

The revamped Samsung Apps store -- Now as Galaxy Apps

The revamped Samsung Apps store — Now as Galaxy Apps

The For Galaxy category further has been sub-categoried into: Galaxy Gifts, Galaxy Essentials, Apps for Professionals, and Galaxy Specials. The apps featured under Specials, have been created using Samsung SDKs.

Below is a list of methods that make apps more likely to rise in the ranks of app stores like Galaxy Apps, Google Play or iTunes.

What’s in a name?
This may seem an obvious thing, but many apps still have names that are too generic, and which rank poorly against competing apps with the same names. As an example, check out the results when you search for “flashlight” in Google Play:

flashlightsearch

To make an app stand out in a marketplace, the name chosen should be memorable, unique, yet relevant. Creative Bloq recommends two-part names, which combine the basic function of the app with a word that enhances it. An example would be Samsung’s sports news and content app, SportsFlow.

Also Read: App Store Optimisation 101

Other factors that go into a good name include pronounceablity, sufficient difference from existing apps, as well as the presence of keywords in the name itself. For one, it’s hard to tell your friend about the hottest new app if it’s named “Sdjslwk”, or if it’s called “Winstagramme”. The former is nigh-unpronounceable, while the latter is likely to be mistaken for a popular photo-sharing app.

Pretty icons get more clicks
Humans are visual creatures. Likewise, the very first interaction people have with an app is likely to be when they take a look at its icon. Clearly, an app icon that’s pleasant looking will engender more interest among app browsers, encouraging them to click to find out more and hopefully download it.

What, then, makes an icon good? While it’s indisputable that peoples’ tastes vary and that there are likely no icons that appeal to everyone’s taste, there are a few tips to create more aesthetic icons that stand out in a crowd.

For one, excessive detail and cluttered designs are out. As this article from The Next Web shows, simple yet unique designs making use of a two- or three-colour palette like Vimeo or Flipboard are easy to resize, making them look appealing whether on the phone, tablet, or when viewed on the web.

Vimeo-Flipboard

Check out the competitors
As Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu said in his Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles”. To succeed in app marketplaces, knowing the competition is crucial.

To size up the competition, one needs to think like a consumer. What apps are there currently in the market that fulfil a need, and what characteristics play an important role in making a user choose one app over the other?

By taking a look at the apps available for a certain keyword that prospective users search for, one can get a comfortable overview of the competitor landscape. With that, taking a look at the number of downloads as well as ratings and reviews will give a more specific analysis.

For instance, an app with 100 downloads and an average 2-star rating can be dismissed with little consequence, but one with 5000 downloads and an average 4.5-star rating merits a good look, and it may even provide lessons worth learning.

Data analytics
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. The previous section on competitor analysis is just a narrow portion of analytics, which is the art and science of gaining useful insights from aggregated data.

In the past before the advent of Big Data, getting detailed information such as the country most app users hail from is a time-consuming, tedious process. Now, with products such as Distimo and App Annie, app developers can gain insights into the market space of their products in a way not possible previously.

Also Read: Echelon 2014: A look at the fast-evolving app ecosystem

As an example, knowing the countries and regions most users of a particular app hail from can drive expansion decisions, directing resources towards the most promising markets. Changes in the revenue and download numbers can also predict major trends before they happen, which app developers ignore at their peril.

Advertising: More varied than ever before
Just as SEO does not a marketing strategy make, app store optimisation can only get one so far. As any mobile user who has spent time mindlessly browsing Galaxy Apps, Google Play or iTunes knows, app stores are great for distribution but terrible for discovery.

Digital Advertising Technologies

Image courtesy: Maksim Kabakou / Shutterstock

So, the question goes back to how one lets users gain awareness of their app, or in other words: advertising. The disruption of advertising by web and mobile technologies has, fortunately, opened up avenues for developers to get the word out without spending large amounts of money.

Banner ads
Banner ads are the hand-painted bilboard signs of the online world, having being developed in the days before the dot-com crash in 2001. Even as they are detested by most desktop web users, with many of them installing adblock software for an ad-free browing experience, mobile users generally still accept banner ads as a worthwhile tradeoff for free apps.

To generate conversions and downloads from banner ads, a balance needs to be made between making them eye-catching enough to capture user attention, and not being so obstrusive that users get annoyed and spread this annoyance to their social media networks. Banner ad firm Bannerflow suggests simple designs with a clear call to action: This ad from Podio below shows an example.
Podio Ad

Video ads
With mobile phones having ever-increasing processing power and data networks becoming ever faster, video advertising is becoming increasingly popular, especially within apps and games where a user has to view an ad before advancing to the next level, for instance.

With video being a dynamic medium, developers have greater leeway to showcase their apps, with the ability to add more detail and better visuals as compared to banner ads. Little touches like humour can add wonders to an ad’s conversion rate, maybe even creating the next viral video sensation!

Also Read: Video ads pump revenue into mobile games without hurting IAPs

Choose channels carefully
Ads themselves, however, are only part of the advertising equation. The other is ad networks, which do the backend work of putting your ad into websites and apps that your target audience are likely to view and use.

Many factors go into selecting a suitable ad network. Among the most important is the price, expressed in cost-per-impression (CPI) and cost-per-action (CPA), the former being the price an advertiser pays for a single instance of an ad, and the latter being the price charged by the network when a user interacts with the ad, for instance clicking on it.

Apart from price, other factors that should influence developers’ choice of ad networks are the country coverage, the inventory of apps and websites that the ads will be shown, and the presence of analytics services. Good coverage and inventory enable ads to reach a wider audience, while analytics let developers focus their advertising resources on more promising markets and saving overall costs.

Bundling and tie-ups
Finally, bundling apps together with handsets and telcos are an extremely effective method in getting apps into users’ phones. By including either a full-featured or trial version of an app into a phone, new users are enticed to click on it and check it out. For mobile apps, bundling can be done in two ways, namely through telcos and through handset manufacturers.

Telco Bundling
Bundling apps with mobile plans is a good way to leverage on telcos’ resources in promotion and distribution. For instance, Thai telco AIS has nearly 40 million subscribers in total. Having an app preloaded on even a fraction of those translates into millions of users.

That said, telco bundling is a big endeavour that involves multimillion-dollar deals, hence it’s not something that the fledgling developer can try. However, many telcos now have investment and incubation arms, and getting access to their userbases can be something that incubatees can try to negotiate.

Handset Bundling
Handset bundling is similar to telco bundling, except that it has the potential to reach a greater, more international audience. This is due to the fact that mobile subscribers around the world generally use the same phones even as they subscribe to different telcos in different countries. An example would be Samsung’s introduction of Samsung Galaxy Gifts for its new S5 phone.

samsunggalaxygiftsLike telco bundling, handset bundling is generally reserved for developers with deep pockets. That said, handset manufacturers are warming up to the potential for community engagement with hackathons and app development competitions, particularly with the advent of new mobile-enabled technologies like wearables and the Internet of Things. An example can be found in Samsung’s Gear App challenge, where developers compete to best app for the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

The Next Leap is a collaboration between e27 and Samsung Developers to tell the stories of innovators and startups across Asia, who push the envelope in technology and business. Visit Samsung Developers Asia’s website for all your development needs on the Samsung platform.

With a few failed and unrealized startups under his belt, Terence is no stranger to the startup landscape. He hopes to start something big. Someday. Meanwhile, he is content with bringing the latest startup and technology news to both professionals and lay readers alike.

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