Christain Billings is a Digital Product Designer at Levvel. He has designed multiple chart-topping apps on the App Store that have been featured by Apple on numerous occasions. Christain designed apps like Hours (#1 Productivity), Grades (#1 Education), Drop (#1 Developer Tools), and Languages (#1 Utilities). Levvel’s Product Innovation team works with both enterprise and startup clients to launch new products and reinvent existing ones.
The Recipe for Success
You’ve created a great app, but how do you get it noticed among the millions of other apps on the App Store? There are proven strategies on what it takes to get your app noticed by the press and by Apple. You’ll have to focus on vital areas, such as building a truly great product, of course, but also developing and executing a marketing strategy that starts before launch and continues well after.
Succeeding in the app industry takes a lot of work. You can get extremely lucky and release an app without much effort and go viral, but that’s 100% luck and not what you want to rely on for your success. I strongly believe that success in this industry is based on the culmination of many things at work—a recipe, if you will. This recipe consists of five main ingredients, and each one compliments the others in a way that will create a snowball effect for your product when launch day arrives. The five ingredients are:
- Building a great product that solves a genuine problem
- Creating anticipation that builds momentum for your launch
- Getting your app in front of the right people (relationship building)
- Launch day (create a snowball effect)
- Keep promoting (content marketing, PR followups)
If you’ve included these five ingredients in your recipe for success, you should be enjoying the fruits of your hard labor come launch day—and beyond. Let’s take a closer look at each of these ingredients.
Craft a Useful, Well-Designed Product
First and foremost, the single most important ingredient in your recipe for success is the product itself. No matter how sound your marketing strategy is, an unrefined product will have a very hard time succeeding. But if your app is well-executed, intelligently and beautifully designed, provides a great experience, and solves a problem, it will be much likelier to succeed. It’s a lot easier to find success with a strong product than a faulty one.
If you want to catch’s Apple’s eye and increase the likelihood of getting featured, release an app that utilizes their new technology. Hours for Apple Watch and Drop with Touchbar support are two examples of this; both were heavily featured by Apple. Apple appreciates a quality app, and featuring one that utilizes their new technology is a win-win for them.
Additionally, localizing your app is one of the smartest things you can do. By supporting your app in various languages, it gives Apple the opportunity to feature you in multiple App Stores. Hours Time Tracking was localized and featured in North American, European, and Asian App Stores.
Prep for Marketing Your App Starts Well Before Launch Day
Once you’ve got a validated product and a launch date in sight, it’s time to start building buzz. Marketing your product well before the launch date is critical—waiting until the day of release won’t do you much good. You need to start building buzz early on by utilizing private beta access, social media contests and teasers, email marketing, and blog posts about your experience and the journey of building and releasing an app.
One thing has always been true about apps: people go wild for a private beta. People have a psychological need to feel included, to be a part of something. You can leverage this and create an exclusivity factor by only including a select amount of people to test your app. Promotions like a Twitter contest and email marketing giveaways will do the trick. Those that are selected will feel special and have an affinity towards your product—this is how you begin to develop evangelists for your app.
“Marketing your product well before the launch date is critical.”
If you want to go the extra mile, set up an exclusive Slack channel to communicate with your testers. My team at Hours did this, and the feedback received from the channel was incredibly beneficial.
Your main asset in building buzz is going to be your dedicated teaser website. This page should be well designed, include everything the user needs to know about your app, and should show off screenshots and videos. Most importantly, this page should include an incentivized newsletter signup.
I can’t stress enough how important this is.
Once those who are interested sign up, you can continue to market the app to them in your email marketing campaigns, increasing the likelihood that they won’t forget about you by the time launch day comes around.
I highly recommend blogging (with video content) about your experiences and providing sneak peeks with exclusive updates throughout the development process. Medium is a great platform for this, and many people within the app community engage with this type of content here. Blogging gives people a unique insight into your life and is a great way to build genuine supporters for your app.
The Proof Is In the People
Think about who you’re marketing to: real people (potential users, members of the press, Apple) who want to promote a good app and benefit from all of the traffic it will provide to them.
People respond to genuine connections you’re trying to make. If you think automated, spammy messages will do you any good, stop right there. You’ve got to be genuine, and people can easily tell when that is not the case.
Start by making a list of influential people in the app industry, people you look up to or know could give you a lending hand. Reach out to them and others alike. Start a conversation on Twitter, take a focused interest in their work, and build a relationship around that casual engagement. By building a relationship with those within the industry, you’ll have a great group of supporters that will want to help your app succeed.
Earning the respect of your peers takes time. Establishing yourself as a staple in the industry means you need to deliver great products consistently and develop a good reputation. By communicating with influencers in a meaningful way, they will get to know you and your products over time. If you build a good relationship and help them out, they will, in return, be much more likely to help you out when the time comes, especially if they respect you.
Launch day is the culmination of the hard work you’ve been putting in day after day. This should be a day of celebration, crossing your Ts, dotting your Is, and letting the snowball you’ve been building finally roll on down the hill.
If you’ve asked the press for an embargo on your app’s news (I recommend it), most of the press you’ll be getting will release on the same day. This will really help maximize the exposure you’ll get. Send out social and email blasts at the same time. Put out a blog post. This is when you want to bring out the big guns and garner as much attention for the release as you can.
If you’ve done a good job of setting yourself up for launch, the snowball effect will take place and you should get some articles from the press and, ideally, a feature from Apple. If you can get featured, I honestly believe that it’s more powerful than any amount of media coverage you can get, but coupling the two will make for a very successful launch.
Don’t Stop Promoting
Launching your app does not mean you’ve crossed the finish line; there’s still a lot more work to be done. Continue to promote your app through content marketing, try to get on some podcasts, and consider targeted ads on social media and Google to keep the ball rolling. Ask your beta users to help spread the word (consider a referral program), and pay close attention to feature requests.
More than likely, there will be bugs that need attention after launch. If you can patch those up while adding a new feature or two, you’ll be well on your way to developing a great reputation in the industry.
The App Store is not a gold rush like it used to be. It’s not a place where you can just build a random or gimmicky app and watch it do well (Ok, some can get lucky, like Flappy Bird). The App Store is driven by a lot of hard work and has a lot of moving parts that need to be timed right in order for you to stand out. You’ve invested the time needed to build a really great product, so invest the time needed to develop genuine relationships with influencers, execute a long-term marketing strategy, and ultimately get that app the attention you seek.