How to create a successful app - Acquiring Customers (Part 2 of 4)

This is part 2 of our "How to create a successful app" article - see Part 1

  • The scope of mobile (Part 1)
  • How you can acquire customer (This part)
  • Show me the money (Part 3)
  • Finding app ideas (Part 4)

Aquiring Customers

In many ways the mobile market is a very pure form of sales - in the end it comes down to getting your product out there and in front of people. The marketplace is already full of competitors, and the barrier to entry is reasonably low (meaning lots of people across the world are trying to be successful at it, just like you). If you're lucky enough to have a successful app it will be followed by lots of competition (in fact this happens even if you aren't successful - people assume your models works, and follow you over the cliff).

People who complain about this competition need to consider what the other alternatives are. When we first started (12 years ago) the mobile market was completely different - sales were completely dominated by Operators channels (Voda/Orange/T-Mobile in the UK). If you wanted to make any significant money you had to get your apps into their appstore. Operators never liked dealing with anyone but the bigger companies so smaller companies like ourselves had to sell via an aggregator (who would take 20% of the measly 40% the operator would pass to us).

The real problem was that we could never be sure that the operators would take our apps - the aggregator wouldn't be able to guarantee it either. The judgement of the operators with regards game choices was somewhat temperamental, with no idea of what the "run of the mill" customers wanted - casual puzzle games seemed too far from their feedback loop of racing games etc. Thus trying to convince people to take our Sudoku game (we created the first mobile version) was a real struggle. At the end of it if we were lucky enough to get in, they would provide us with a list of the latest handset uptake (20% Nokia Series 60, 10% Moto Razr, etc), and we then needed to deliver many builds to cover a whole range of devices (30+ builds). I'm well aware that I'm now sounding like a old man shouting at kids telling them how lucky they are! Nowadays your customers have a reasonable chance of seeing your app and not liking it rather than a faceless character at an Operator stopping it going to market. In our case we also had lots of aggregators never even pass the money back to us or going bust!

Back to acquiring customers; there are lots of ways here are a few easy ones:

  • Via Search within the app stores. If your app has a sensible name, i.e. a term people will search for and the competition isn't too strong, you will get downloads. As your rating/downloads increase your search position will improve and this in turn feeds back to give you more downloads and more reviews etc. When naming your app try and think what people might search for and get as close to that name as you can. Often lots of terms will work for a given app, so try plugging in the different names (into the store search) and get a feel for what works on iOS/Android. I would recommend noting it all down in a spreadsheet, and then you can track changes. There are numerous articles on App Store Optimising. Again you have to be aware just how hard/limiting the discovery process is with mobile.

    1. Limited search results per page (iPhone is 1 result per page, iPad is 6 results, Android is 4-6), so if you aren't near the top of the search you won't get many downloads.
    2. People make snap judgments to download on the name/icon/reviews and possibly the text/price (probably in this order, however some people will simply exclude all 'paid for' apps)
    3. In some areas there are clear dominant players that won't be shifted
  • Via Chart positions - as you get more downloads it is possible to start to get featured in various charts, this in turn provides the feedback loop from before. Obviously it depends on the app/game niche - some are much harder to get to the top of. Teazel's apps currently feature in the "Words" section on Android (which is quite new) - it is less competitive than the Puzzle category, but it probably has less downloads as well.

  • Acquiring via other channels. If you can find a partner who already has traffic coming to their site, this is a good route to market. Done properly this can give the app the kickstart to help it climb the market chart. In the past we have down deals with The Times newspaper & The Sun, with them both providing free promotions.

  • Buying adverts. Eeekk! I don't recommend this unless you have a really good idea of what your lifetime value of your customers are. We have tinkered with various forms of mobile advertising and it doesn't seem possible to get a solid return on investment. The one exception we have spotted is that it can good for getting that initial boost of downloads to help when first starting out. No one likes to download an app with only a few reviews, so getting the traffic when first launched can be tricky.

  • Social promotion, this can be from within the app (with options to post to Twitter / Facebook / email), asking customers for a review from within the app (this is a touchy subject and great care should be taken not to be the pushy nagging app that get uninstalled pretty quickly), building in a social angle within the game (not something we have really tried). And of course, tweet, post to Facebook, Flickr, Youtube, etc - pull all the social handles!

  • Having a promo website / other cross promotion from your other existing apps. The difficult part is getting people to convert from web to mobile.

  • Time, this is the biggest trick if the app is good and well regarded overtime it will make its way towards the top (80/20 rule). The trick here is to "stay in the game" long enough to get the benefit, this means that you can't expect overnight success (you might get it) but you can expect the downloads to gradually rise over time. This will only work with a long-lived game.

  • Offer the app to review websites - Pocketgamer and the like.

  • Write a blog with witty comments about the state of the market.

Whilst trying to acquire customers it is important to also consider the effect of the monetisation strategy with regards customer acquisition.