In some ways, people who set out to develop the next big mobile applications are like the entrepreneurs and dreamers of any age. Most of them love what they do, they are devoted to doing it well, and they believe the market will reward them for their skill, passion, and hard work. However, unlike their predecessors in earlier eras, mobile app developers face a staggering level of competition. Think you have an amazing app? Chances are that 60,000 other developers feel the same way about the new offerings they sell via app stores every month. With tens of thousands of new competitors cropping up every 30 days, the only way for app developers to get noticed is to excel as much in marketing as they do in technology. Fortunately, that's not as difficult a task as some might fear.
A crowded market for mobile app developers
Gartner's predictions about mobile device ownership paint a clear picture of the opportunity developers want to capture. The research firm is counting on 1 billion iPad users in the next three years. That's in addition to the 2.5 billion smartphone owners Gartner expects by 2015. That's a lot of little screens for mobile app developers to fill. Yet, while the potential market is huge, the competition is just as big.
App stores are on track to stock their virtual shelves with more than 700,000 titles per year. Under these circumstances, it's not enough to have an amazing product. App buyers have far more options than they can possibly consider, and a great idea no longer leads directly to success. The apps that have the widest reach today, such as Angry Birds, are engaging and well made, but they owe their buzz to additional factors, including YouTube promotional trailers, free "lite" versions, and, most importantly, word-of-mouth marketing.
That's a potential problem for developers, who are often more comfortable with code than with words. But completing the technical part of the app is just the first stage of the process. Next, developers need to create compelling content to appeal to target users. That content might include a snappy product description and a website where you can offer detailed support information, share screenshots, announce new developments, and share advice for common problems.
Marketing 101 for mobile app developers
All the work developers do to promote their apps once those apps are market-ready falls under the marketing umbrella, which isn't always a comfortable place for a technologically inclined professional. After you identify an amazing concept, design and polish the product, and test it before launch, you need to tackle the next big undertaking: finding customers.
Start by envisioning who those customers will be. Their needs and interests should be clear to you before you begin designing a marketing plan. Ask yourself, "Who are the users? Which channels will they trust most for help in choosing an app? Where and when will they use this app? What are their goals for using it? How much time do they have?"
If your imagined user is like many of the real consumers who buy apps, he or she is likely to tune into the advice of peers. Surprisingly, many app developers overlook this and go straight to advertising to reach their audiences. While ads give you a direct path to targets, they can be expensive. (If you're gung-ho on ads, look for pay-per-success campaigns that charge you only when the ad leads to a direct download. These are more affordable and also let you track downloads and hits so you can make informed adjustments to your strategy.)
Developers would be better off helping their customers to spread the word about their apps. To support this effort, developers can add a tool into the app that will expand the capabilities of word-of-mouth marketing. The authentic recommendations of users are often more effective than ads, and user-generated feedback typically leads to far higher download rates. A five-star user rating, for example, yields more enthusiastic response than any paid advertisement could hope to achieve. Before you launch your app, make sure you've made it easy for your customers to recommend it to friends and strangers via social media and other methods.
Achieving a dream in a competitive reality
Mobile app developers have to be so much more than talented technologists. To stand out amid the scores of competing products, an app must be supported by a marketing strategy that leverages the social behavior of users. Learning to create and execute such a strategy is not nearly as difficult as creating an amazing mobile app. First, communicate with potential customers in as many venues as possible, and then make it easy for your customers to evangelize your work.
Assaf Kolirin is the founder and CEO of buzzdoes.
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