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Mobile Marketing

2015 App Marketing Channels

Robi Ganguly  //  September 22, 2015  //  13 min read

2015 has already been a big year for the app economy. Over the past nine months, we’ve seen:

But before we get to what this means for app marketers, let’s take a step back and look at what app marketing is all about, and the channels—both new and old—that we should all pay attention to in 2015 and beyond.

This post will introduce the new channels and trends introduced throughout the past nine months that can launch your app ahead of the game and to the top of the app stores’ charts. We’ll also cover some of the more established app marketing channels and our advice on making the leap from online marketing to mobile app marketing.

The Old and the New: App Marketing 101

App Marketing Channels of 2015

To many, the field of mobile app marketing is still shrouded in ambiguity. Even the best marketers, trained in the nascency of social and web technologies, struggle to break through the clutter of the app stores. Many stick to the seemingly safe, tried-and-true methods of online marketing and promote apps just as they would a website, sticking largely to inbound marketing, social media, and public relations. Others ditch the old altogether and treat app marketing as a wholly separate field. Too often, however, they find something lacking in their marketing efforts. They know rankings, ratings, and retention are vital to an app’s success, but have little luck influencing these factors.

The truth is, mobile app marketing requires both the old and the new. It’s only with a blend of old school tactics and an adaptation to new, app-specific channels that marketers can thrive in the evolving business of app marketing.

App marketing doesn’t need to be big and scary. It comes down to the channels and strategies you already know and love, with just a few tweaks to incorporate new technologies exclusive to mobile apps.

We’ve done our best to combine the old and the new with this quick introduction to our 14 favorite app marketing channels, broken down in terms innate to any digitally-trained marketer. Enjoy!

App Marketing Channels

App Store Optimization

App Store Optimization (ASO) is the process of optimizing mobile apps to rank higher in an app stores’ top charts search results. The goal of ASO is to drive more traffic to your app’s landing page in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store, so that searchers can take a specific action: downloading your app.

SEOs and other online marketers will be relieved to know that they are already well versed in many of the factors that influence an app’s rank, including keywords, titles, imagery, and views (downloads, in this case). However, ASO goes a little beyond the content of your app’s landing page and incorporates a host of factors measuring your customers’ usage and evaluation of your app, including ratings, reviews, and loyalty.

Ratings & Reviews

A cornerstone of mobile app marketing, app store ratings and reviews provide potential customers with the ever valuable assurance of quality. Just as Yelp reviews can make or break a local business, the slightest change in your app’s rating translates into dramatic changes in your app store rank, downloads, and revenue. As we found in our 2015 Consumer Survey on App Store Ratings, increasing your app’s average rating by just one star, from a 3.0 to a 4.0, can almost double your expected downloads. Reviews play an equally important role, with one-third of browsers reporting reading at least seven reviews before making the decision to download a paid app.

As app marketing continues to evolve, so does the power of app store ratings and reviews. Ratings now extend beyond app store optimization and into the realm of online marketing. Both Facebook’s App Install Ads and Twitter’s App Cards, for example, pull an app’s average rating from the App Store or Google Play, displaying it alongside only the app’s name and icon in an environment where first impressions mean everything.

App Store Ratings and Reviews as top app marketing channels of 2015

Ratings displayed in Google Play.
App Store Ratings and Social Media as top app marketing channels of 2015

Ratings displayed prominently in a promoted Tweet.

Affiliate Marketing

One of the least used but most effective app marketing channels, affiliate marketing is almost identical to online referral marketing. Through this channel, app marketers (the ‘merchants’) can join an ad network, such as Apple’s Affiliate Program or the Google Display Network, to create featured widgets and code snippets that other app or web publishers (the ‘affiliates’) can embed on their platforms. For each download such an app generates, the app publishers receiving the download pays the affiliate a small reward—typically in the form of revenue sharing.

Paid Advertising

Equivalent to search engine marketing’s Pay-Per-Click advertising in Google’s Adwords or Bing Ads networks, mobile app’s version of paid advertising is a way to quickly grow downloads and reach a targeted audience.

Paid app marketing can be done via many different channels, from the app stores, to social media, to other apps. While most of these channels will come naturally to the experienced digital marketer, incentivized Cost Per Install (CPI) and app marketing’s version of retargeting are unique to the app world. Incentivized CPI is a form of affiliate marketing that relies less on the app stores as an intermediary and more on a strategic partnership between two app publishers. In this revenue sharing model, one app ‘incentivizes’ customers to download the other publisher’s app (e.g., a mobile game might offer in-app currency in exchange for a download). The publisher receiving the download, then, would pay a small commission to the referring party. App retargeting is a retention-boosting strategy of targeting your ads to only those who have already downloaded these options. These ads provide a non-intrusive way of alerting customers that there is a new version of your app available, promoting new features, or simply keeping your app top-of-mind with a fleeting customer.

Paid advertising in the Google Play Store remains a top app marketing channel

Jump to the top of a competitive keyword search with paid advertising.

Fresh Content

If ratings and reviewers are a cornerstone of app marketing, content is the meat and potatoes. For now, we’ll skip over online content marketing channels (elaborated on in multiple channels later in this article) and focus on in-app content. This channel is one of the few in this list that affects every tier in the growth funnel.

Particularly benefiting acquisition and retention, content is the key to app sustainability. We found that 60% of mobile customers get bored with an app after their first month of using it and promptly abandon it. If you want to hold their attention, it’s imperative that you offer them something new and original every time they open your app. On the other side of the spectrum, fresh content in the form of frequent app updates plays a fundamental role in acquisition. Recent updates provide customers with a signal of quality and continued developer support of the app, while trends over time (such as ratings increasing after a recent content update) is one of the leading levers for boosting app store ranks.

Loyalty Programs

App loyalty programs seek to convert casual customers (‘users’) into highly active and highly profitable evangelists. In the app world, this often comes down to rewards systems (e.g., offering a discount on a customer’s next purchase after a recent transaction), gamified achievements (e.g., offering an in-app badge or unlocking a new feature after a customer refers 5 friends), or blurring the lines between app marketing and traditional marketing by allowing customers to earn and track loyalty rewards, obtained through either in-app, in-store, or online purchases, on their mobile app.

My Starbucks Rewards Loyalty Program app

An example of a in-app loyalty rewards program, courtesy of Starbucks.

As Starbucks CEO and mobile loyalty pioneer Howard Schultz put it, the growth of reward programs “continues to be our most important business driver as new members contribute not only short-term increases in revenue and profit, but also to long-term loyalty for years to come.”

Usability & Visual Design

Requiring continuous collaboration between app marketers, developers, and user interface designers, this channel refers to the interaction between your customer and your app. When it comes to usability, simplicity is the most sophisticated. A natural-feeling navigation flow probably may be overlooked by your average customer, but a poor design will be impossible to ignore.

This channel, first and foremost, is concerned with the retention angle of marketing. A uSamp survey revealed that 71% of customers report deleting apps in the event of a crash. An Appiterate survey additionally found that 42% of people would uninstall an app because of a bad user interface, and 68% because of a poorly designed registration process – the very first impression a potential customer has of an app.

Mobile app growth hacking

Simply put, a siloed team may be your greatest liability. To mitigate these retention risks, you need an understanding of both design principles and customer insights. This requires stepping into the customer’s shoes and making your app truly “people-first.”

Push Notifications

Push is a double-edged sword for app marketers. Akin to drip marketing, drip notifications are messages or alerts that appear on a customer’s device even when they are not actively using your app. They can be used to introduce new features, inform customers of timely and relevant events, or to announce a new sale.

Done right, push notifications are a great tool for retention. They ensure that your app is always top-of-mind and lure customers back into your app. Done wrong, however, they’re the #1 reason for app uninstalls. If a customer finds a push notification annoying, it is apt to have the opposite of the intended effect, and may end up hurting customer retention. The difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ in this case, comes down to personalization (See: Personalized Messaging) and context: Whom, When, and How Often you message.

Personalized Messaging

You may have noticed how I’ve very rarely used the term ‘user’ in this post. That’s because your mobile app customers aren’t a series of anonymous data points; they’re people. And like you and I, each customer is unique. Customers each have their own use cases for your app, and each has their own preferences for how they like to be engaged.

Personalized messaging, like one-to-one marketing, is the manifestation of how we incorporate everything we know about our customers’ loves, likes, and dislikes into their mobile app experience. Using customer insights, mobile analytics, and customer journey mapping, we can design a marketing strategy that puts our customers first.

Do you know a customer has a birthday today? Send them a personalized message and discount code via push. Know customers respond negatively or exit the app after being shown a ratings prompt at first log-in? Look for more appropriate times to ask for a rating or a review, such as after the customer has completed what they opened the app to do.

One of the top mobile app marketing channels of 2015, context marketing allows you to deliver a personalized experience in app

Incorporate context to message customers only at relevant, opportune ‘mobile moments.’

Word of Mouth

This leading driver of app discovery is also the hardest to measure—and the hardest to control. We touched on two methods of word of mouth (WOM) marketing in previous channels (reward programs incentivizing referrals and app store ratings & review), and we’ll add to this list: Making your app easy to share. Even if a customer wants to refer your app, the chances that they will forget, between then and the next time they see someone who might be interested in the referral, are high. Try as you might, you can’t control for these situations, but you can make it easier to share your app on the spot. By building in social sharing capabilities (e.g., ‘Share to Facebook’) and social integration (e.g., the ability to search through your address book or social networks within the app and send an automated deep linked email to the referred party).

Ultimately, however, referrals come down to creating an app customers not only love, but love to talk about. Similarly, don’t give customers a reason to talk negatively about your app and do your best to listen for and respond to any negative feedback before it makes its way to other ears. In a consumer survey earlier this year, we found that mobile app customers are 33% more likely to comment on negative experiences than positive ones All press may be good press, but the same can’t be said of WOM.

Social Media

Social media is well entwined in today’s marketing toolbox. Fortunately for us, we don’t have to adapt our favorite social strategies. You can promote your app on Twitter, Facebook, and the likes just as you would promote any website or business. The only thing we’d add is a consideration of paid promotion. Twitter’s App Cards, Facebook’s App Install Ads, and Pinterest’s App Pins are all geared specifically to mobile and, if your budget allows, are a great way to reach a very targeted audience.

Twitter's Pinned Apps make social media one of 2015's top mobile app marketing channels

Twitter’s Pinned Apps feature, currently in testing on select iOS devices.

Blogs & Multimedia

Again, your favorite inbound strategies are perfectly suited for app marketing over blogs and other online mediums. Adding a content and blogging strategy to your mix will allow you to reach new audiences and boost organic traffic by appealing to ASO’s more established uncle, search engine optimization.

Another highly recommended content medium for app marketing is video. Well produced app demos or promotional videos provide your best chance of getting your content viewed and shared by large audiences, and can be displayed both online and in your app’s landing page in the App Store or Google Play.

Internet Forums, Q&A Sites, and Social Bookmarking Services

We commented earlier on our love of social media advertising’s ability to get your content in front of a very targeted audience, and love forums and other virtual communities for the same reason. This channel is a no-cost alternative to paid advertising and allows you to communicate directly with your target demographic. Whether you’re creating a casino app or the next Yo, there’s bound to be a community out there full of potential customers. Just be careful to abide by the community’s code of conduct or established norms to avoid having your content appear spammy or overly promotional, both of which may do more harm than good for your app.

Press, Influencer Outreach, & Public Relations

Let’s face it. We all dream of going viral.

When it comes to apps, perhaps the best example of viral marketing comes courtesy of the ride-sharing app Uber. For the last two years, Uber has rolled out an enormously popular PR stunt, #UberIceCream, in which the company uses its fleet of cars to offer a one-day-only, on-demand ice cream delivery service in major metropolitan areas in 57 countries. The campaign resulted in an explosion of social media activity and TV, radio, print, and web coverage by major media outlets throughout the world.

Uber's ice cream stunt campaign goes viral

PR par excellence, courtesy of Uber.

Sadly, we don’t all have Uber’s resources. But that doesn’t mean we can’t generate buzz. As a grassroots approach to viral, you can reach out to your connections and key influencers, social media personalities, and bloggers in your app’s category in the hopes of leveraging their personal brands to promote your app. The holy grail of app press is getting featured by Apple or Google in their respective app stores. Both companies regularly review apps and prominently display their top recommendations in their app store—a feat which will immediately and dramatically drive downloads for your app. While getting featured largely comes down to luck, you can improve your chances by focusing on your app’s usability, design, and performance. Both companies are looking to show off what entrepreneurial app developers can do with their operating systems, so it’s in your best interest to always be one step ahead of the curve as you design around newly introduced OS features, such as Android 5.0’s recent transition to Material Design.

And there you have it—our 14 favorite app marketing channels guaranteed to not only acquire but retain customers for your mobile app.

At the end of the day, app marketing need not be something big and scary, nor does it need to be relegated to ‘just another marketing buzzword.’ With the right metrics and analytics to map every step in the customer’s journey, mobile app marketing should be seen, instead, as something all marketers can get behind: A measurable, results-driven extension to the same age-old tricks we already know and love.

With a few tweaks, the online marketer is predestined for success in the transition to app marketer. Likewise, the independent app developer can fall back on the tried-and-tested channels of online marketing—in combination with the in-app channels they know best—to marry old strategies and new technologies.

We hope this quick introduction helps demystify the emerging field of mobile app marketing. As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts on mobile app strategy. If you have a question or tip for any of these channels, please leave a comment below or shoot us an email.

About Robi Ganguly

Robi Ganguly is the Co-founder and CEO at Apptentive. He is passionate about giving customers a voice via mobile. Follow Robi on Twitter @rganguly.
View all posts by Robi Ganguly >

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