SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- You've built a shiny new iPhone app, and now it's sitting proud in the App Store -- along with more than 65,000 others. As if conceiving a useful app and building it weren't enough, now the question is: How do you get people to notice it, download it and actually use it continuously?
CHECKLISTFrom start to finish, here are strategies for a successful app.
For Sherwin-Williams, the secret to driving downloads was to promote the heck out of its app. In May, the paint purveyor launched an app called ColorSnap that helps users match paint colors and palettes. Backed by an online campaign involving banner ads, e-mails and PR outreach, the app landed a mid-30s spot in iPhone's utility category. When the publicity tapered off in July, Colorsnap drifted to No. 70. To get back in the game, Sherwin-Williams launched an in-app text-ad blitz to 6 million iPhone users and within 48 hours ColorSnap vaulted to No. 18. The $15,000, two-day promotion across 2,500 apps on AdMob's network yielded a more than 500% increase in daily downloads.
"A mobile campaign can provide a quick win, more so than some of the more traditional media, whether online and offline," said Pam Gillikin, Sherwin-Williams' director of interactive sales and marketing. She declined to disclose the number of downloads the campaign generated.
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For those queasy about committing five figures to advertise an app, one alternative is to generate word-of-mouth. While the monetary investment can be more modest, it's generally more difficult and less predictable. Send your app to influential bloggers and industry opinion-makers, and don't forget to promote it through your own media: your Twitter feed, Facebook page, YouTube channel, website, e-mail newsletters and in-store or point-of-sale communications, such as posters and bag stuffers.
Help increase the odds your app will go viral by building in social-media extensions so users can share it with friends. For example, if your app is a game, let users invite their friends to play and post their scores to Facebook.
Price Is Right
"Free is the way to go, because that's how you gain distribution," said Sam Yan, CEO of Adwhirl, which found that 95% of downloaded iPhone apps are free even though they make up just 25% of the apps in the App Store.
But free won't necessarily cannibalize sales of paid apps. Another Adwhirl study concluded that cross-promotions between a free and paid app can help drive sales, though this works better when the free app is successful and can serve as a marketing hook for the paid app. Lighter marketer Zippo seems to be taking this route; the company is set to launch a paid version of its popular app later this year that lets users personalize their lighters with a collection of downloadable skins, designs and images.
Timing matters, too. A high volume of downloads occur over the weekend, starting Friday afternoon Pacific Time through Sunday evening, according to mobile-ad exchange Mobclix -- so by releasing in the middle of the week, you kick start the download process. Advises Vijay Chattha of AppLaunch PR: "Work with Apple to time the release date; don't just launch something ad hoc after finding out the app went live without any notice."
Once you've got users there, how do you keep them? That's turning out to be an equally challenging question, because consumers love downloading the newest apps, but stop using them pretty quickly. Only about 20% of consumers return to use a free app after downloading it, and less than 5% use it 30 days later, according to analytics firm Pinch Media.
One cure for app apathy is to refresh its contents. Kraft said more than 50% of the people who downloaded its recipe and shopping utility iFood Assistant continue to interact with it three months after their initial download, thanks to the food maker's efforts to keep the app fresh and relevant.
"The iPhone platform provides a dynamic opportunity for us to evolve our application with consumers' changing needs," said Ed Kaczmarek, Kraft's director of innovation and new services. "For example, it's no secret that many people are working with tighter food budgets these days. This year, we added a 'Budget Wise' section in iFood Assistant, which provides affordable recipe ideas."
Listen to Users
The refresh process involves knowing what improvements to make, so taking the consumer's pulse by monitoring user feedback should precede any initiatives to update the app.
In addition to viewing the feedback left by users in iTunes, you can also get feedback by building a form directly into the application. This way, users never have to leave your application to submit feedback. The application GasBag, which integrated user feedback mechanisms inside its app, had a total of 340 user comments in iTunes as of early August, versus 3,700 comments submitted via their in-app comment form, according to Mobclix.
Own the users -- know who they are, and get them to register within your app, or sign up for your SMS or e-mail alerts. By figuring out who's using your app, you could find you have a new audience. According to Kraft, 27% of people registering on iFood Assistant are men, helping the brand reach a demographic beyond its traditional female audience.
Consider embedding analytics tools to monitor how users interact with the app. If you have a streaming-video campaign, are users actually watching the video and how much of the video are they watching? Analytics can answer that.
Create New Uses
When upgrading, think beyond content and consider upgrading the app's functions. When the app platform's operating system is upgraded, consider how to use the new features to enhance your app to make it more fun, interesting or useful.
You will also want to continue evolving your app to enlarge its marketing potential. For Zippo, which has the iPhone's most popular branded app, the mobile venue has become its newest marketing springboard.
Since people like to hold up and wave their Zippo lighters at concerts, the company's virtual-lighter app is now a vehicle for the brand to deepen its association with music. Working with concert promoters and other sponsors, Zippo is set to launch before year-end a mini-utility in its app that lets people find concerts near their area.
"The app started as an idea to reach a new audience on the phone, but it's become a global marketing platform for Zippo," said Jon Vlassopulos, CEO of Moderati, creator of the company's virtual lighter app. "We can launch new things for the community, and Zippo can message its users who in some cases have never held a Zippo lighter. ... it's a touch point that builds value for the brand."