How to sell an app

There is no doubt that we live in an app-driven world. According to the Pew Research Center, over three-quarters of Americans own smartphones now, and these people spend around 90 percent of their phone time using apps rather than mobile browsers.

Apps are an integral part of our lives, which leads many creative entrepreneurs to seek out success by releasing and selling an app. There’s only one problem: The market is saturated. This challenge is not impossible to overcome; it just takes heaps of strategizing, many hours of research, and a dash of luck.

Strategic marketing research, planning, and targeting will be your three main keys to getting more app sales. To ensure you’re making all the right moves and setting yourself up for success, consider the following pointers for how to sell an app:

1. Start with a clear purpose, targeted at a clear audience

One of the biggest problems app makers face is explaining what their app “does.” More accurately, they struggle to indicate the value their app provides.

The solution is to determine the ways in which your app satisfies a clear need. Business-to-business apps, for instance, almost always seek to alleviate a “pain point,” something people hate doing or that causes them stress. In the consumer world, apps often provide entertainment or streamline experiences that people already enjoy, again solving a type of “pain point” that can involve boredom or inconvenience.

Your app design should have been built from the ground up to provide this type of value. If not, you can adapt your branding approach and perhaps even your app design to better fit with actual needs. Apps like these are easier to market, and they’re also easier to find an audience for.

2. Back up intuition with research

This step is crucial and is one that will be repeated ad infinitum throughout the app selling process.

When deciding on a marketing approach that demonstrates clear value, you want to ensure that your app offers something that people will get excited about or that actually applies to their needs. You can send out surveys for this purpose using a Google Forms document or a service like Survey Monkey.

Canvas early adopters, friends of friends, and family of friends in a wide range of demographics. You can also start a small digital marketing campaign to enlist survey recipients, but set a strict schedule and budget to avoid burning too many resources.

Ask survey recipients about the types of services or experiences they want out of an app based on selecting answers from a pick-list. For instance, if you made an app that helps people hold chatroom-style conversations, include a question about the features that would get them most excited. Also, give them the opportunity to describe their current frustrations with email and other current communication platforms.

The results of your survey will inform your marketing approach and may also reveal ways to improve your design.

3. Optimize your app store listings

Apps should have a memorable, distinctive name, but the App Store/Google Play listing should also be descriptive. Download services use an algorithm to display search results or suggest new apps to people. If your app uses a generic nonsense word for a name like “Shmoobibadoo,” then it is less likely to get picked up by an algorithm.

Since this is the case, you may want to create a very short, unique brand name followed by the specific purpose for the app. Consider the top downloaded “ – video chat & friends” as an example.

Also, ensure that you’re incredibly accurate and complete with the forms when submitting your app to the download service. For instance, ensure that the categories you pick are accurate and sufficiently descriptive.

4. Canvas your audience to determine segmentation strategies

If your app is lucky enough to have gotten a few hundred downloads, then you have a big enough sample pool to start extracting insights from their demographic data. Determine three to five categories for the types of person who most commonly downloads your app based on recurring traits, and then target other people in those categories to grow your user base.

For instance, you may notice that almost your entire audience is 18-32 but that high schoolers, grad students, and those who work entry-level jobs are three main categories. Determine the trigger messages that can motivate each group to download, and then target individuals with these messages on the places they most often frequent.

Smaller apps or ones just past launch can still learn lessons from competitors. Try to identify the audience segments that seem to provide them with the most adopters.

5. Use paid social media and paid display to gain exposure

Many startups neglect to advertise on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. These platforms offer troves of user data, enabling you to target your ads based on very specific traits.

For example, a music mixing app could have a lot of downloads from people who like groups like Skrillex and Deadmau5, so you can use “people who like Deadmau5” as one of your targeting parameters when building an ad campaign. You can also control things like the time and frequency that the ad is displayed, helping you make the most of each penny you spend.

Paid display ad partners can also work very well for growing your app user base. Although these ads are not always as well-targeted and they tend to have low click-thru rates, they still make people aware of your app so that upon second exposure, they may take a chance.

6. Capture emails and social media followers for organic marketing

Opt-in marketing leads are even more valuable than people who see your paid ads, even if they are nowhere near as numerous.

Offer them the type of content that keeps them engaged, so that they have more reasons to add themselves to your mailing list or Facebook pages. For instance, going back to the music mixing app, you can create content like “Top Club DJs Who Could Become Superstars” or “Best Ways to Sample,” both of which are likely to get clicks on social media or opens from the inbox.

Organic audiences like these tend to be much “stickier” and provide a valuable resource for word-of-mouth marketing and survey feedback to help you improve your marketing efforts.

7. Consider making your app “freemium”

Free apps are much more likely to get people to download and try them, so go ahead and offer a sampling of your best features or a limited-use demo. Include advertising for the full version, and offer users outside-of-the-app content that demonstrates how the full version works and the benefits it provides.

8. Have an app review policy

App reviews make or break most download decisions. Read negative reviews closely, and prioritize common complaints when making your next patch. Ask loyal app users for a review in-app, and consider incentivizing their review with free in-app currency or some other tempting promotion.

9. Built-in marketing features

Your app can use Facebook profiles, Google accounts, Twitter accounts, and more as a sign-in mechanism and then request to post on users’ behalf. The best apps allow for seamless uploading of user content generated in-app to visible social media platforms, accompanied by a marketing slug that can encourage more downloads.

Going back once more to the mixing app example, an “upload to SoundCloud” or “upload to Facebook” feature can encourage user shares and subsequent marketing exposures.

10. Use SEO to capture browsers

Although people spend most of their mobile time in-app, they do still hunt around online for information. If you can create a site filled with content intended to capture keyword search traffic, then you’re more likely to get their attention.

Research common keywords that could lead interested users to your app, like “Best Productivity Apps,” and respond with content that mentions your app as one of the options. The better optimized your site is, the more visible your app will be to everyone, especially if you cross-post content to social media.

11. Keep testing and revising

Using these strategies is no guarantee of finding success immediately, but the results of your efforts will serve as a progress report that can help you make incremental improvements. Keep listening to your audience, keep trying new things, and keep tinkering to make each marketing effort more effective.

Then, you can finally sit back for a well-earned breather and enjoy a moment just watching the downloads roll in.

Interested in workspace? Get in touch.