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Your Android App Marketing Strategy: Grand Slam or Base Hits?

This chapter divides Android apps into three categories and describes how you can create a solid marketing strategy no matter into which area your apps fall.
This chapter is from the book

As an Android app developer, you want to strike it rich selling your app to millions of customers—or at least tens of thousands of customers to make your hard work pay off. Other equally ambitious developers hope to achieve a steady income and perhaps write apps full time and leave their other full-time jobs behind. Although these goals are possible, it takes a lot of hard work to achieve such success.

There are several reasons. First, the sheer number of apps for sale on the Android Market has made it a little more difficult to stand out from the crowd. Instead of just a few similar apps in your category, there are likely many vying for the buyer's attention. You are competing against free and paid apps—some brilliantly written and some not even worth giving away. Although not as large as the iTunes App Store, the Android Market it growing considerably, with 70,000 apps at the time of this writing. The Android Market is currently adding about 5,000 apps per month.

Second, the intense pricing pressure causes many developers to start off at a low price or quickly drop their price to $0.99, a figure that makes it extremely difficult to break even, much less make any profit. According to researcher Mobclix (www.mobclix.com), the average price of an app on the Android Market is $4.10 compared to $3.37 on the iTunes App Store.

The sheer number of competing apps may seem daunting; however, these statistics are not presented to be discouraging. Rather, this chapter is designed to point out that the Android Market is maturing very quickly, just like other app markets, and you have to develop a solid marketing strategy to realize success. The Android Market is not running on Internet time, it's on mobile time! Your marketing strategy also has to be tuned to work with your buyer.

We've Seen This Before

The Android Market is much like your local supermarket. In the 1980s the average supermarket carried about 7,500 items. Today, that same supermarket carries upwards of 50,000 items! Every vendor is fighting for shelf space so more people will buy its products. Manufacturers want their products positioned at eye level or placed on their own display at the end of an aisle. They are willing to pay extra for this privilege. The supermarket makes its money through high volume turnover of its products. Those items that don't sell well are pushed to the bottom of the shelves or moved to another part of the store.

Amazon.com is no different; vendors are trying to stand out in a very crowded market. Not counting other items, Amazon's bookstore alone boasts well over 250,000 titles. Many authors hope to achieve fame and fortune by landing on the top-100 list on Amazon's book home page. Other authors hope to get their big break by being mentioned on Oprah.

The Android Market has exploded from its introduction of less than 500 apps to well over 70,000 apps at the time of this writing. Just like the supermarket vendors, every app developer is vying for that eye-level virtual shelf space, hoping to get top billing so buyers will take a look. They are hoping to get a mention in the "Featured" section of the Android store. Table 1.1 shows the breakout of the different categories of apps available in the Android Market. Approximately 150–250 apps are posted to the store each day! According to Google, almost 1,000 apps per week are submitted for placement on the Android Market. At this pace we could easily see well over 100,000 apps posted to the Android Market by the end of 2010.

Table 1.1. Percentages for the Most Popular Categories in the Android Market

Type of Android App

Percentage of Total Apps













As the Android Market has grown, it has necessitated reconfiguration numerous times to further segment the apps into logical groups where buyers can more easily connect with sellers. Google has improved the search capabilities of the store, added subcategories, and added Top Paid, Top Free, and Featured links, as shown in Figure 1.1. The top paid and free apps are displayed on the home page of the Android Market, along with a Featured section.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 The Top Paid, Top Free, and Featured links are shown on the left of the Android Market's home page.

The Android Market will continue to make improvements to help strengthen and refine the search process and showcase apps in the best way possible. After all, Google has a vested interest in your success. The more apps you sell, the more the company makes. Perhaps more importantly, the more apps that are sold, the stronger the Android brand. Google doesn't publish Android Market sales in its earnings results, but like Apple it is using the store to help build its platform and increase sales of its phones to the masses.

To create a winning sales and marketing strategy for your app, it's important to understand the dynamics of the Android Market and understand that there are several strategies you can employ. Most developers are trying to knock their app out of the park. They want the grand slam and think anything less is failure. A number of developers give up, thinking there's only two possible outcomes: the big win and no win. But, there are actually three possible outcomes: the Big Win app, the Steady Win app, and the No Win app. All apps fall into one of these three categories. Over time, and without marketing or product updates, all apps will eventually slide from one category to the next one below it.

The Big Win—Grand Slam

The Big Win apps (or Grand Slams) are generally characterized by explosive sales from their launch. Games, by far, make up the majority of the Big Win apps. Why? Because games take advantage of the impulse buy, which occurs directly from an Android smartphone. Games are the most likely apps to be bought on impulse. The impulse buyer doesn't care about reviews. Sometimes a community of people is familiar with a particular development company and they are hungry to purchase its new app. Some companies have made their apps successful by porting an already successful PC or Mac game over to the Android platform.

Big Win apps have been positioned by large development companies with huge followings. Their aim is to achieve quick sales on apps that are priced in the games sweet spot—from $0.99 to $2.99. At these price points, the impulse buyers are looking for something to occupy their time. The longevity of this type of app may be short, lasting only a few weeks or months. Then the same company releases another app and focuses its attention on that. Some winning apps are designed in such a way to bring the customer back over and over again with multiple levels of play. One of the most popular game apps, providing 120 levels of play, is Robo Defense, shown in Figure 1.2. Robo Defense provides at least 30 minutes of play per level, and the makers of the game have developed a very strong community of users who keep the game in the spotlight.

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Robo Defense has done a very good job keeping customers engaged with an enormous number of play levels (120 total if you figure 40 levels of play with three different maps).

Another common element for Big Win games is that they are usually simplistic in their premise. The masses of Android users purchase games that are easy to learn. Low on learning, high on enjoyment is the rule of thumb for the quick win Big Win games. The typical game buyer doesn't want to learn tons of rules to a new game and instead wants to understand the point of the app immediately.

The Big Win apps can also come from independent developers. However, the big wins for independent developers are happening less and less often due to the number of games on the Android Market and because game quality is going up while the time to market is going down. Larger companies have the development staff that can bring apps to market more quickly without sacrificing quality. It simply takes an independent developer longer to create a high-powered, high-quality game app. Once a following is created and the app is updated frequently, you will continue to attract customers, as has been the case with the Bejeweled app, which is shown in Figure 1.3.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 Positive reviews and sales continue to roll in for the infamous Bejeweled app.

The last characteristic of these apps is that they often get a big break from the press as being an app to look at. Tom Clancy achieved remarkable success with his book The Hunt for Red October when Ronald Reagan praised the book after he read it while on vacation. After Reagan's comments, sales of that book skyrocketed. If an Android app gets a lucky break from a major news agency, it can serve as the catalyst to get sales moving in a big way. Word of mouth takes it from there.

Another app that falls into this category is shown in Figure 1.4. This app has achieved solid success. Car Locator continues to stay on the bestseller list due to its simple navigation and huge following.

Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 Car Locator has achieved Big Win success with well over 1.3 million downloads.

The Steady Win—Base Hits

The next category of Android apps is the Steady Win, also known as "base hit apps." This category may be overlooked by some app developers who focus solely on the Big Win. The majority of new Android apps land in this category, even if the developer has intentions of its app making it into the Big Win group. These apps rely on Android app reviews, positive blog posts, and making it onto the Android Market's "wall of fame," where the app is placed in the "New and Noteworthy" or "Staff Picks" section for a time. These placements are definitely helpful and will boost sales noticeably while you remain on the list.

These apps also rely on good old-fashioned, consistent marketing. The revenue of this type of app can be more predictable when the seller understands what marketing activities work for them. With a good app, the right marketing mix, and product updates, your app can achieve success on the Android Market. It may not be multimillion dollar success, but it can be decent. It may be enough to compel you to write multiple apps, build a brand, and truly make a business out of your efforts.

Some apps that have achieved solid success that are not necessarily Android games are shown in Figure 1.5 and Figure 1.6. These apps have been achieving a steady revenue stream for their developers, albeit not at the $10,000+ per month level. They have strong value propositions and the products resonate with their intended audience. These apps are focused on getting healthy and saving money, topics that interest almost everyone.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 Piggy Bank is an app that allows you to track how well you are doing quitting smoking by rewarding yourself with money each time you avoid the bad habit.

Figure 1.6

Figure 1.6 Racing for Cardio Trainer is an app that simulates a full virtual race, with a voice telling you exactly how far behind or ahead you are.

Because most apps fall into the category of Steady Win, the bulk of this book is focused on helping you achieve ongoing success through a complete marketing approach. These apps generally command a higher selling price and can have more predictable revenue streams. Independent developers will most likely be playing in this category whether they realize it or not.

The No Win—Strikeout

Sadly, a large number of apps on the Android Market are DOA. After working months and months or paying someone else to write your app, you post the app to the Android Market and anxiously await its review and placement on the store. The app is posted and your expectations soar! You can see the checks rolling in from Google. You've already bought the swimming pool (think Christmas Vacation). Then, you wait. You check your sales stats. A few sales here, a few sales there.... What has happened? Where are all my buyers? What happened to the 2,000 downloads overnight? You thought people would be breaking down the doors to get at this new app. You are discouraged and think you've wasted your time. You've probably thought about dropping your price. Surely there must be something wrong with the Android Market to cause this.

Sometimes, even very well written apps end up unnoticed and ignored. An app that sees no sales or just one or two a day is not going to cut it when you're trying to reach your breakeven point. Some apps become inactive and are no longer for sale on the Android Market. So, what do you do when you find yourself in this predicament, where your app is not doing well at all? It's time for a total app makeover. Ask yourself the following questions, and be brutally honest:

  • Is there really a market for my app? Did you come up with your app idea while sitting around with a bunch of friends and thought you had stumbled onto something that was incredible? Or did you do some solid competitive research to see if there were similar apps already posted, especially in the Free category? Nothing wrong with creating a competing app if you can make it better, but it has to be better! Often, whenever we think we have a great idea, we need to really analyze whether it's viable or not. Ask some family, friends, or co-workers if they would be willing to pay for such an app. Find out if you have a market (and its potential size) for your app before you start coding or launch into an expensive project with a developer.
  • Is my app extremely well written? A number of apps on the Android Market are poorly written. They have bugs, or some of the features don't work. This is a surefire way to get a one-star rating on the Android Market by a disgruntled buyer. Even at $0.99 people will take the time to point out on the customer reviews that your app is crap or not worth the money. One of the outcomes of competition is that prices fall and quality goes up. Customers expect an app to work just as well at $0.99 as they do at $29.99.
  • Have I done any marketing? As I will mention time and time again in this book, marketing is not posting your app to the Android Market. You've had your app approved by Google, and that's a great accomplishment, but now the second half of your work starts. Selling Android apps is not a passive activity if you intend to make money at it. A few other questions to consider: Does your app's icon convey what it does? Icons that don't convey what the apps do, or at least what category they are in, will cause you to miss a marketing opportunity. Does the name of your app communicate the value of your app or help tell the story of what it does? Does your web copy match your product website in terms of crisp, well-written content? All of these things combined help you to tell the story of your app and communicate its value. Figure 1.7 shows a sample icon that does a good job of communicating its app's value. Color Pop allows the user to turn images into grayscale and then color specific sections of the photo, as shown in the icon's graphic. This app is similar to Color Splash and the child eating a lollipop in color helps illustrate the point of the app.
    Figure 1.7

    Figure 1.7 This icon communicates very nicely what the app does. This is an important part of your overall marketing strategy.

Taken together these three components are the pillars of your app's success, as shown in Figure 1.8. Failure to address all three of these areas well means the likelihood of your app succeeding in the market is slim. I know there are stories of some apps seemingly not addressing these areas and yet achieving wild success. However, there are always examples of people achieving success in books or movies that, for some odd reason, defy all understanding.

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8 Three pillars of Android app success: a market, a well-written app, and focused marketing.

The same goes for Android apps. But, even the successful Android apps that achieve (perhaps) undeserving success have done at least two of these three things right. They definitely have a market, regardless of how stupid or pointless the app may be. The developers may claim to have done no marketing, but word of mouth (a form of marketing) has propelled them to success. There is always an explanation for why an app is not successful, but finding it sometimes takes a little digging.

If you decide that your old app should rest in peace, at least you have a better understanding of what you can do the next time around to help you achieve success. Don't kid yourself on the answer to any of these questions. If you truly believe you have a great idea for an app and you've done your homework, then go for it. If you have a written a great app and know it without a doubt, then apply some marketing and get those sales moving.

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