The Art Of Launching An App: A Case Study

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You’ve made your first app!

Now what?

Anyone in the app business knows that marketing an app is tough. And according to a recent article on TechCrunch1, “Getting a mobile app noticed in the increasingly crowded mobile app market is more difficult than ever.” Some titles and concepts are truly unique. Angry Birds? Its title and screenshot alone were enough to catapult it to number one in Finland, according to Mikael Hed2, CEO of Finnish game studio Rovio, which develops the game. Some apps are downright genius. Who doesn’t loath maintaining a to-do list? But now with Clear3, it’s astonishingly fun! Who in the media wouldn’t cover something this clever? These two special cases were a shoe-in for the coveted feature page.

OK, so we have two apps that have leaped the giant “feature” hurdle and scored attention, much to the envy of countless wannabe developers. But not every app is an Angry Birds or Clear. And any developer surely knows that they are in extraordinary company — 91,754 iOS apps and 122,220 Android apps were released between 16 May and 8 September 2011, according to a recent Mobilewalla report4. The researchers also found that during 2011, the number of available iOS apps increased from 338,000 to 589,148, while Android apps also more than doubled, from 115,000 to 319,774.

So many apps5
(Image credit: florianplag6

The app world is becoming like one giant forest, millions and millions of trees. So, if one of those trees falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Sure, there are SEO tricks, word-of-mouth marketing tools and built-in demographic identifiers that might help move your product up the ever-growing search list of apps, whether the list is for books, games or lifestyle tools. Moreover, thousands of companies in the market today make extravagant claims of being able to get your app noticed.

Many developers fall into the trap of allocating tight budget dollars to quick “tech” fixes in a desperate attempt to lift their app above the crowd. However, in this age of digital distraction, one mechanism to help that tree stand out is a tried-and-true PR marketing campaign. And the best initiatives are those that involve choosing strategic partners, creating clever story angles that dovetail with newsworthy occasions, and running a cause marketing campaign and contest. This case study will cover some of these tactics and offer some of the lessons we learned along the way.

Case Study: David and Goliath

According to a recent article in Publishing Perspectives7, “The children’s market is a huge opportunity within the digital publishing arena.” Jumping Pages8, a children’s app developer, decided to enter this market with an expertly produced book app for children, the first interactive app version of the epic tale of David and Goliath9. Based on the work of the team of artists, animators and programmers, the iPad app is filled with vivid graphics and 3-D and 2.5-D animation that runs with interactive components at the same time on the same panel. The reader is able to interact with hundreds of original assets: shoot arrows, catapult burning weapons, populate flowers. Shake the iPad to awaken the sleeping Goliath; sway the iPad to swing a hanging lantern; turn the iPad to change the character’s points of view.

David and Goliath App

The quality of the work was undeniable, so it was imperative to the developer that the app get attention. But how would the app be differentiated to the consumer, considering that a David and Goliath book app for kids already exists. Strike one. Moreover, regardless of its quality, the likelihood of the app landing on a feature page was slim, considering that most retailers are reluctant to highlight stories with religious overtones. Strike two. A final dilemma was how to make a story that has been around forever feel relevant in the crowded world of kids book apps. Strike three?

Not so fast!

Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid

From a production standpoint, the David and Goliath for iPad app was ready to launch in July 2011. The only thing that wasn’t ready was a plan of action on how to make some noise for a story that, for all intents and purposes, already exists as an app. This scenario holds true for many developers who are ready to submit improved versions of models that exist in various categories; there is a plethora of apps for weather, productivity and games (Who’d like to wager on the best poker app?). Many developers spend countless hours designing, programming and shaping their apps. They become so immersed in the product that they often drink the Kool-Aid, so to speak, and believe that their superior work will speak for itself and that word of mouth about their amazing app will spread quickly. Many developers with this mentality simply see no need to create a cool marketing plan around the app. Sounds like buying a lottery ticket.

Launch!10
(Image credit: stevendepolo11)

Being proud of and confident in your product is nice, but better to be realistic about how to introduce it into the marketplace. Thus, after careful thought and shuffling around scarce budget dollars, Jumping Pages re-examined the landscape and decided to be smart about launching. The company set out to create a targeted and focused consumer marketing strategy. It decided it needed to implement an effective campaign in order to rise above the other book apps that were entering the fray in increasing numbers and to set itself apart from a version of the story that was already available. And because of budgetary constraints, it had no time for a protracted strategy. It’s first swing had to be a hit.

Finding the Perfect Partner

First, the company wanted an effective “marketing” partner, a narrator for the story who would help sell it. Ideally, the narrator would have a back story that was relevant both to the biblical tale and to the targeted demographic, and who would have broad media appeal (in order to be newsworthy). Jumping Pages reached out to baseball star and 2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein to narrate the app. As many sports fans know, Eckstein has had a noteworthy career, overcoming his relatively short stature to achieve glory at the Major League level. Hence, the back story: a modern-day David whose life story mirrors that of the biblical David.

Upon arranging for his participation and partnership, the company moved the launch date of the app to October to coincide with the start of the World Series. Coincidentally, October 2011 marked the five-year anniversary of Eckstein’s World Series MVP performance; so, Jumping Pages created an “MVP Edition” of the book (same app, different narrator), which would be released to dovetail with the newsworthiness of the fall classic.

Newsworthiness Needed

Being newsworthy is key, particularly when you’re trying to generate media coverage. Many developers view the mere existence of their cool app as being newsworthy in itself, but while the launch might be exciting to the developer, 99 times out of 100, it means nothing to a reporter or blogger. The main objective of a reporter is to speak to their audience’s interests and tie those interests to current events — presidential election, Super Bowl, Valentine’s Day, the Final Four, the Oscars. Timing is everything when pitching a story. (Coincidentally, given the baseball spin, this article is timely because the annual spring opening of the Major League Baseball season in the US is a newsworthy event.)

Pinpointing an Audience

Additionally, in order to successfully market a new app, particularly a kid’s app, the developer has to strike a balance between reaching kids and their parents. David Eckstein fits the bill — a baseball hero to dads and sons who enjoy baseball together. Moreover, Eckstein was featured in the film Champions of Faith, so he appeals to those interested in biblical narratives.

Had Jumping Pages stuck with its original version of the app, the launch would have been too general, and the company would not have had an opportunity to reach a specific demographic. Many app developers feel that their apps are good for everyone — all moms or all kids, for example. Whittling down your audience to a very precise demographic is imperative. Reaching a niche audience, one that will respond positively to your app, is enough to spark word of mouth.

Triple Play and “A” Reviews

With David’s cooperation, Jumping Pages had a narrator whose back story matched that of the story’s protagonist — a star athlete tied to an newsworthy sporting event and who resonates with a specific demographic. Eckstein made for a triple play and thus gave the developer an opportunity for multiple story angles. The app was featured in over two dozen outlets using a variety of angles to appeal to enthusiasts of sports (Yardbarker), religion (The Christian Post), baseball (MLB.com) and technology (Wired and GeekDad).

Also, the timeliness of the World Series gave app reviewers a reason to talk about the app in October. The strategy was effective, and reviews were posted far more quickly than normal. All developers appreciate how important early reviews are, given the usual time lag. The app was praised: “like watching a Disney production12,” “… animation is picture perfect and it made me want to read the story again and again13,” “…is outstanding with fantastic, vibrant animations and images…14.” It continues to receive impressive reviews15.

David and Goliath App

Cause, Demo and Contest

In addition, through Eckstein’s involvement, Jumping Pages had an opportunity to incorporate a cause marketing component into the launch. Eckstein’s charity of choice, Bags of Hope16, helped promote the app to its members and Facebook fans. Next, with Eckstein’s involvement, a public reading and demo of the app was arranged, part of a post-launch strategy that would keep the app top of mind during the approaching holidays. A demo and reading of the app featuring Eckstein and his wife, Ashley, took place on November 30th in a Manhattan Apple store, during the start of the hectic holiday shopping season.

Finally, Jumping Pages sought a contest partner to run an iPad giveaway (iPad being the number one requested gift for the holidays and the platform of the David and Goliath app). It approached Smart Apps for Kids17, a leading review website for children’s apps, to be a partner. The contest, which ran the week before Christmas, garnered over 1,500 new fans for Jumping Pages’ Facebook page and generated excitement for the app and for the developer during the critical last-minute holiday shopping period.

Hits the Mark on the First Shot

The founding of Jumping Pages and the launch of the David and Goliath app were a success. The high praise, along with the company’s achievements in development and marketing, have enabled the company to move forward on two forthcoming apps: an original interactive story that teaches kids and parents respect for the home, and an interactive musical app for kids, both set for release in the spring of 2012.

Rather than haphazardly launch its app or throw precious dollars at risky online maneuvers, Jumping Pages has demonstrated that a thoughtful, strategic and patient approach usually works best. Many app developers rush their product to market without considering the consequences. These days, with the overwhelming amount of information and the number of apps, the more carefully a developer plans their strategy, the more likely their product will launch successfully. And like David, they usually have just one shot at getting it right! Thanks to its partnerships, creative story angles, newsworthy connection, cause component, contest and patience, Jumping Pages did it right.

Lessons Learned

Keep these points in mind when planning your strategy:

  • Partnership
    Launches work best in pairs! Choose a partner whose background gels with your app. For example, Ruckus Media18 just announced a unique partnership with New York City’s PBS station for the “Cyberchase” app in its math series.
  • Relevance
    Find a way to tie your app to a current news or seasonal story. News outlets themselves know this better than anyone: just this month, the Washington Post launched a presidential election iPad app19.
  • Audience
    Don’t play to a stadium. Rather, cater to an small meaningful audience. Talking about specific audiences, there are even apps for nose-pickers20 — as well as lawsuits21 for alleged patent infringement on those nose-picking apps!
  • Cause
    Share the wealth by helping a needy organization that fits your app’s demographic. This one really woke me up: did you know you could donate $0.25 to charity every time you hit the snooze button22?
  • Relationship
    Incorporate unique ways to address and engage your audience. Self Magazine, a leading women’s lifestyle publication, is unveiling a mobile app game23 of its annual Self Workout in the Park, featuring fitness, health, fashion games with avatars, virtual goods and puzzles.

(al) (fi)

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A former public and media relations executive for Toys “R” Us, Sears and Kmart, is currently director of a PR/social media agency in New York called Fresh Fluff.

  1. 1

    This is a great article, but it presupposes that you have a marketing budget. I think a lot independent developers will have close to $0 for marketing and would have a hard time creating partnerships. I’d like to see a part 2 for this article that focuses on guerilla marketing.

    19
    • 2

      You don’t need money to market your jazz. You need a good word of mouth, target the right audience and if your so inclined, a good partner.

      -1
      • 3

        I think that’s what James is getting at. Part 2 on how to promote and market with a cost-effective strategy

        1
      • 4

        Nothing is badder this app right now trust me.You can stearm videos,music in real time, play games control your Mac on the same network.I haven’t tried another network as yet but it’s worth the money cause I was using desktop remote it had plenty lags but this is just awesome dude!!!

        -12
    • 5

      Really great lessons learned for first time app launches. Launching an email app for Windows called Mailbird April 2nd!

      12 days left! Will definitely put these tips into action. Any Windows + Gmail/Google Apps users mark April 2nd on your calendars and hit the download button at getmailbird.com

      First launch and super excited!

      3
  2. 6

    Stephanie@Jezam

    April 5, 2012 7:12 am

    Great article. Thank you for this. Calling the marketing partner the story narrator is right ontthe money!

    I do wonder when the middle men are going to appear. Those nice people that will help you launch your app for a %age…. :-)

    3
  3. 7

    Great article! You’re absolutely right that it’s nearly impossible to have a successful app campaign when there are now more than 500,000 apps in each store. I would just add though that this marks a great opportunity in user-specific personalization of apps and enabling all users to create utility specific apps for their own lives…not the case with games. Think about this case study, have there been apps created by common users (not dev shops or big companies) that sold well in the marketplace because they were able to solve a specific life problem? I would think that could provide great insight as to where the app market will head and how to become the best brand ambassador for that app in a busy and crowded marketplace.

    0
    • 8

      @Juan

      I know of a case study like that – mapped out by the creator himself, Artem Lapitski. Granted, when Artem was thinking of creating an app, he already had a background working in the interactive media industry that he could pull from. Still though, it was his personal app project.

      I’m not sure if we are allowed to provide links here, but the app is called “Repeat Timer Pro” – google it. On the app’s landing page, there is a link on the top right that will take you to his thoughts, details of what he’s tried, and data charts of what worked and what didn’t.

      I do not know Artem personally and have never contacted him, so I can’t say what happened with the app in the time since he wrote out his launch experience. But still check it out, because it is useful for insight into how a one-person “team” could effectively launch an app without spending a lot of money.

      @John Casey

      If linking is allowed, I’ll come back and post the link directly. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Artem Lapitski’s case study too :).

      0
  4. 9

    This was a wonderful read.

    Personally, this is one of the few articles about App marketing that actually gives decent advice. Many of other articles get overly technical with too niche details, and others don’t give enough “real world” application. This one was a nice balance of both.

    Contests always seem to be such a neat way to gain interaction with possible customers- especially if marketing begins pre-release.

    Another tip I’ve read fairly often is to start trying to gather subscribers via email marketing or Facebook followers, very early on and then on release day, remind them all to check it out, and review it. This usually translates to people who care about your cause, and can offer favorable, quick reviews.

    Cheers!

    0
  5. 10

    Without a doubt, this is a useful article. Thanks for taking the time to write it!

    I can’t help but wonder two things
    1. What does it cost to have David Eckstein narrate and participate in the marketing of your app?
    2. How long did it take (and how much profit was made) before the halo of downloads driven by PR wore off? Is there an ongoing strategy or maybe you only focus on the profitability of the app’s first 12 months?

    14
  6. 11

    Nice article.Its really useful guideline to launches any website.Thanks for sharing.

    0
  7. 12

    Awesome article

    0
  8. 13

    I believe that is possible to successfully launch an app without any money but I agree is very hard.

    An example that is mentioned again and again is 37 signals. They virtually launched their products (web apps) with no marketing money but they spread the word of mouth using their Signal vs Noise community and their open source contributions.

    So before you launch the app you need a great community to spread the word for you. My believe is the size and the quality of that community is decisive for the app (or whatever you work on.)

    0
  9. 14

    A great read! Marketing is something too many ma and pa development shops overlook. I’m an independent musician preparing to launch an album and this article is just as relevant for me as it is for the iOS developer crowd. Thanks!

    4
  10. 15

    Fantastic insight and writing, thank you John!

    As a start-up ourselves without the budget for a baseball star,
    well maybe for some coke and a hot dog for an under 12′s player: )

    I’d also love to see a part 2, low-budget approach from your experience!

    0
  11. 16

    Bagshik Ghulumian

    April 11, 2012 5:54 pm

    Great article, it surely will inspire me to launch my own app.

    0
  12. 17

    You can’t. The iPhone does not give you the ability to itnsall programs unless you Jailbreak it, which voids the warranty on it. Plus, your application may not play well with the modified Mac OS X on the iPhone, meaning you won’t be able to see it, even if you have it.In February, Apple will release the Software Development Kit (SDK) that allows developers to release applications for the iPhone and iPod Touch. There will likely be a book reader application that you can get after it’s released, but until then, it’s either illegal jailbreak or nothing.Hope this helps!

    -3
  13. 18

    I wrote an app and wanted to publish it. One company wanted $50G upfront. The second company wanted 50% of profits. Really? My thought is that after 50 seconds of exposure online that it will be ripped and offered free by 80 other ‘developers.’ What is the real story on these problems?

    0
    • 19

      Dennis, one approach is to target a very small market that you can contact. Win them over to your app. Then develop the app further to appeal to a broader segment. A generic app is going to be very expensive to market.

      0
  14. 20

    Great article! Wonderful read, especially with the emphasis of partnerships. It always astonishes me when someone releases an app or even publishes a website and expect immediate traffic. Wrong! A strategic marketing strategy is vital.

    0
  15. 21

    We released a new app called Boxckey that is a box hockey game from when I was a kid turned into an iPad game. We had a huge spike in downloads by just linking our website http://www.deviantsoftware.com/Home/Boxckey.html and our iTunes Store link https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/boxckey/id587674372?ls=1&mt=8 in several iPhone app forums.

    -1
  16. 22

    Great article. Very informative. Thank you so much John Casey and the Smashingmagazine team. I am currently working on coming up with a pre-launch and launch strategy for a news station app. This article has pointed me to the right direction. I’ll come back to share the success of the launch.
    THNX JOHN CASEY!

    0
  17. 23

    Another great resource for building a following during the pre-launch phase is Prefundia: http://prefundia.com/

    0

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