With a million mobile apps on the market, developers need to be aggressive when it comes to building consumer awareness for their products. Marketing is a challenge for many developers, who are usually not trained in this discipline and may not have marketing budgets. Further, marketing activities must reflect consumer trends and the highly personalized nature of mobile communications. None of this is easy, but it has got to be done.
"It is a brave new world," said Michael Becker, managing director, North America, for the Mobile Marketing Association. "Developers must learn new marketing skills," he said. "They must realize that mobile is a unique and new medium. It is fundamentally changing consumer behavior and therefore it must change the behavior of the marketer."
Create a marketing budget
Developers know that marketing is important, but half of developers don't practice it. A recent study by App-Promo found that 91 percent of developers believe that marketing is necessary for success, but more than half (52 percent) have not set aside any money for marketing.
Yet those who do spend money on marketing are more successful. Top-earning developers spend about 14 percent of their time on marketing and have average marketing budgets of around $30,000, said Gary Yentin, CEO and founder of App-Promo.
While that $30,000 may be problematic for many, it is possible to generate some visibility for less to get started. The main thing is to employ fundamental marketing techniques. That means deciding who the audience is for an app, tailoring the app's features for that audience, then creating a business plan, business model and marketing plan with that audience in mind, Yentin noted.
Announce the app with a press release
When an app or new feature is ready to launch, it is important to issue press releases to announce it. Reach out to journalists and bloggers to get the app reviewed and discussed in the media.
Employ these fundamentals in addition to techniques that are tailored to mobile, which include leveraging search tools and social media and mobile advertising channels and practices. Once the app is launched, the marketing cycle must continue to maintain the audience's interest.
"The application has a life cycle that is up and down," Yentin said. "It is like a meter, and you have to feed it. If you don't, the traffic stops, and you have to start over again."
Use multiple app stores
Many developers don't think to distribute their apps via multiple app stores, but they should, Becker noted. The added market reach can make a significant difference in an app's ability to find success.
While iOS apps must go through Apple's (NASDAQ: APPL) App Store, apps that run on Android can leverage Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Play as well as a wide range of other distribution outlets. Developers should look to GetJar, the Amazon App Store for Android, Handango and the dozens of other storefronts to expand distribution.
Developers also should evaluate the geographic reach each store offers, particularly if international distribution is important to their marketing strategy. They should seek out app stores that cater to specific segments, if their app has a distinct niche. The catalog of app stores, published online by the Wireless Industry Partnership, is a handy reference for developers who want to evaluate app store options, Becker noted.
Exploit social media
Social media is the low-hanging fruit for marketing. It doesn't have to cost much, if anything, but it plays a critical role in getting people excited about an app, according to Matt Gillis, senior vice president of global monetization solutions for Millennial Media. He noted that the rapid success Draw Something enjoyed, for example, can be attributed in part to that company's use of Tumblr communities to show off drawings created with the app.
He recommends integrating Facebook Connect into an app to bolster discovery and help create a viral effect for the app. He also recommends using Twitter to announce new releases and product updates.
Compare advertising strategies and pricing options
For developers that are considering purchasing advertising, "it is critical to test a lot, learn and then iterate based on what you learn," Gillis said.
He advises developers to test different creative approaches. Consider banner ads versus full-page interstitial ads, for example, to learn how the market will respond to different options. Get very granular about this. Conduct market tests to evaluate the responses achieved on different days of the week, for example, or in different countries, to try to understand which approaches will make it possible for you to advertise profitably.
"When you find out what is working and where, push on the gas" and go for it, Gillis said.
App-Promo's Yentin advises developers to conduct market research before deciding how to price an app. While developers may want to sell their apps for a download fee, the freemium model, which gives the app away for free and charges customers instead for in-app purchases, can yield much higher revenues.
Yentin recommends testing various pricing strategies with potential customers. The research can be conducted with soft launches or surveys, and the research can be affordable to budget-conscious developers.
"It doesn't have to be that expensive," he said.
Becker notes that mobile developers have special marketing opportunities that most non-mobile businesses have, and these can be highly effective if used well. For example, mobile developers can employ consumers' local contexts and behaviors to create highly targeted promotional strategies, using solutions offered by companies like PayPal Media Network Mobile and YP, formerly AT&T (NYSE:T) Interactive.
"The beautiful thing about mobile is that it provides so much context," Becker said. "It's a beautiful way of providing a relevant engagement in a very targeted way."