How to market an app (nearly for free)?

Obviously, it’s cool when you have a dedicated team of professionals working on your app promotion 365 days a year for a stable wage or revenue share, be it a mobile marketing agency or an in-house media buying team. These are the ways we, as an agency and as pure realists, always recommend as optimal. But what if you have spent everything on development and want to find the cheapest method to promote your IOS or Android app or maybe you aspire to advertise your app for free?

Before we start, we need to mention that hundreds of thousands of downloads for free happen once in a blue moon (maybe, just a bit more often) and are a result of you suddenly having created something unique (that didn’t exist before) or your app catching the hype vibe and going viral. Other ways are hard, systematic work. 

How do you market an app, then?

App promotion, like anything on Earth, is best-started ab ovo – from the very beginning, ideally, even before you release an app.

Step one. Pre-release marketing

  1. Do general research. Check out your competitors once again, find what’s missing on the market, your unique proposition, your strengths, and weaknesses. Those will come handy when you create your first ad campaign if you ever plan to have one. If not, you still need to do ASO and plan your coming out! Keep in mind the regions you’d like to target first and plan the localizations.
  2. Do keyword research. At least, get to know the range of services to gather and analyze them, maybe subscribe for a free trial (but remember you are going to need one after the launch too). Choose your app category carefully, this will help avoid misleading the users.
  3. Define your target audience once again. There’s a nice technique for that – impersonate your average users: draw a couple of portraits, for example, a 27 y.o. blue-collar in need of a stress release or a housewife aspiring for some personality goals.
  4. Tell everyone you are making an app. Literally, you need all of your friends and colleagues to know you are making something that might be of interest to them so when the product is out, a kind of buzz is created. It’s not even marketing, it’s only natural.
  5. Also, all those people might become useful again when you need beta users. They might take notes on the UI, design, and the involvement level they felt. Ask them to check out if everything is obvious, easy to use, and fun. If it’s not, you still have time to make edits! 
  6. To support your claim, create a website for your app to look trustworthy in the first place. Maybe, you could even start a blog about the development process and the issues aligning with it. This will not only boost brand awareness even before the launch but also might bring a piece of advice/support from fellow developers. Who knows the troubles of app creators better than them?
  7. Also, if you manage to create some buzz, you can create a separate pre-launch landing page where the users can subscribe for early access. There are special platforms designed for indie and not-so-indie start-ups that can be used for gathering early access subscribers as well, for example, The Startup Pitch or Product Hunt.

The latter is a combo thing: you need a community member to publish your product and they can give you an additional shoutout. You can pitch your idea in any form you like, gather feedback, and respond to it. The platform is best used in a combination with a landing page. Discounts for your first subscribers are highly appreciated and usually work well, but there are the whole lists on how to launch there best.

  1. Plan your visuals: from branding kit to your first banners and application store images. Why not create an introductory video, either a teaser with key features and the greatest visuals of a thorough onboarding how-to longwatch.
  2. Find a famous person (i.e blogger) and see if they could give you a shoutout for early access or a free lifetime subscription if that’s applicable. We hope we don’t need to explain what an influencer can do to the product marketing in 2020. Do not focus on a specific area of so-called expertise, though if a person specializes in exactly what you do, that would be a perfect combination.
  3. Prepare for the analytics. Think of the key in-app events that might become your key performance indicators and choose a tracking/analytics system to install into your app. If you start fast, you don’t want to lose and leave unanalyzed a single install! Don’t be scared of the top solutions on the market here: they are trusted by most of the buying/agency partners and, again, if you’re keen on a DIY marketing strategy, those would work properly and be a great helping hand in your KPI analytics. Their basic plan rates are, in fact, absolutely tolerable for the complete beginners/indies.
  4. Choose your social media presence. It’s highly likely that you do not need to be everywhere, concentrate on where your target audience dwells, and why. For example, where is the place they spend most of their leisure time? Where do they read the news? What’s the medium they are most likely to share your product with their friends?
  5. After you do this, go for a content marketing strategy. We don’t state that you need blog articles two times a week for millions of downloads, people download apps from the stores, not from Google, in general. Still, why not share your thoughts/dev progress/news from now to then if that is not too hard for you? Any chance to raise awareness is appreciated. Make sure people have the opportunity to comment on what you write, maybe use a dedicated authorization platform for that, like Disqus or, if you want it open-source, Commento.
  6. Schedule the release date (pick a realistic one). This will help gather your resources and better organize the steps we have mentioned before.
  7. Find media for a [free] press release. Create a list of websites/blogs/channels that write about and review the same app categories as yours. You can either do it in bulk (good old mailouts still work..from time to time) or choose your favorite ones for a more individual approach.
  8. We’re absolutely certain that you have done a lot of thinking concerning app monetization models and the have chosen or almost chosen the one that fits your requirement, but if you haven’t – do this!

Having done all of the abovementioned, you haven’t paid a cent yet and in the same time success is almost in your pocket (well, if your app is worthy of anyone’s attention)

Steps to follow immediately after the launch

  1. That might seem obvious, but as soon as the app is out, you need the maximum number of people to know about that, so publish as many announcements via different types of media as you can, using the media lists and agreements you have reached on a pre-launch stage.
  2. Do not forget to use your own social network accounts. You have done something cool, and you want the world to know about that, so why be ashamed?
  3. Do not cease to give and collect feedback. Even if in the first two days after the release you have a bunch of issues to solve, you (or any helping hand) should respond to and save all of the users’ bug reports/concerns/recommendations/ emotional feedback, especially even if it’s outside the app stores.
  4. Revisit your app store presence. Take another round of reading ASO recommendations, look for insights from the market leaders, perform A/B tests, make additional creatives: store description and the images literally are the face of your app, so it must be perfect, to say the least.
  5. Offer incentives for the recommendations (installs, first purchases, etc).
  6. Sharing your app must be made easy. Add a share button and show it to a user every time they log out of the app or at the end of a session (but try to avoid annoying and frustrating users, if you have a gaming app, steer clear from asking for anything during the most active time, be it a hot battle or adding finishing touches to a clay pot.
  7. Collect ratings and reviews. To do so, plainly ask for them. However annoyed you might have been by the apps mumping for ratings, here’s high time you did the same – it’s the smallest thing a user can do if he or she likes the app or at least finds it useful. Get reviews at any cost!
  8. Give influencer marketing another round of attention. Ask as many people for a free mention as you can.
  9. Get ready to become an influencer yourself: if you see that your app is not an instant success (God forbid!), your Instagram or blog might still be. If you are ready to sacrifice your time and a bit of your privacy, why not?
  10. Use all opportunities to become a guest marketer/a guest influencer/ guest writer. If your general bio is of interest, you can at least participate in an AMA on some platform.
  11. Take part in social media group discussions as a developer/marketer of the app. Don’t forget about such platforms as Reddit and Quora
  12. If you manage to gain some social media subscribers, create activities to keep the audience engaged, the medium is up to you: a contest/giveaway (might be subscriptions, souvenirs or even a lunch with the creator if you are ready)
  13. Have you become ready to expand your team, the previous marketing steps will work for you, but searching for employees could also become a marketing tactic! 200 applicants are 200 area-related leads to download your app and form an opinion on it.
  14. Think of some additional value to your product. If you have a fitness app, consider writing quality content about training, healthy eating, and wellbeing, or, if you have a productivity tool, share your knowledge and tips on the matter. Any product that implies constant use and long time retention benefits from your client’s attitude and brand loyalty. Make it both useful and lovable.
  15. To add to the previous point, we suggest that you define your brand image and brand message. Make your product stand out of the crowd, easy to tell “us” from them. If you want to know more about how to do that, read our article about the brand tone of voice.
  16. Apps that do have many users have one thing in common: not only do they know how to make many people download your app, but they also know how to make them stick to your app: minimize the uninstalls and keep the retention rate high. Again, this is only done with proper user journey analytics multiplied by giving people what they want/expect from your app.
  17. Throw a party, if you are sociable enough. Those who have already turn down your low-budget PR propositions might be glad to give you a shoutout after they come back from your party happy and well-fed. Do not forget about your defined brand image here: serving unlimited bloody Marys might not be a very good idea if you run a classic meditation and mindfulness app!

Heavy artillery: Ads

  1. Even if you are still short of budget and want to exercise as many free ways of promoting your app as possible, you can try barter with a fellow startup app. Or partner with a platform that offers ads in exchange for your own ads.
  2. Facebook. No, we’re not pushing on how great a product Facebook ads, “it is known” and it’s just too obvious to be repeated. Now we just suggest that you think of it as a research tool to redefine your audience and check their reaction on your app. If you don’t have the funds for ads, spare some for the research, we are sure it is going to pay back.
  3. Classified ads (PPC) can serve that (research) purpose as well. If you have not done this before and do not want to refer to professionals, you are most likely to fail in terms of user acquisition (but we cannot say wonderful things never happen)
  4. Direct marketing. Strange to see the point in an article about the app promotion, isn’t it? Do not be confused – there is a trending opportunity to make people download your app right away using a QR code. You might have already seen some food delivery services or utilities on the streets – bus stops, commuter trains, shopping malls. If you are keen to try this but still can’t afford it you can give it a shape of guerilla marketing – just create a QR and a nice call to action, print it out and glue it anywhere it doesn’t harm anyone’s property and does not disturb the vicinity’s vibe.
  5. Okay, Google, what do I do if I have money to spend? Start with social media traffic sources, if your analytics is mature enough, you can try to refer to the dedicated self-service in-app DSPs. Again, we’d like to repeat that it is crucial to know all of your standard metrics, the average number of events, retention rate, and so on so that you could tell that something’s wrong with the traffic at once. Major analytics systems usually provide their users with all sorts of tips to define traffic quality.

Of course, not all of the options apply to a single app at the same time. Still, if you try and implement at least ⅓ of the above-stated strategy, your launch, and first steps will most likely be a decent success. When you market an app single-handedly or with a small team, every step counts, do you agree?

Did you manage to get through this long list of options? How many of them have you tried yet, and what is the outcome? Maybe, we have forgotten something crucial? 

We’d love to read your feedback!

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