PodCampHFX Remembary Presentation Part 2
Feb 24, 2011 14:01

On January 23rd 2011, I gave a talk at PodCamp Halifax about my experiences in building my first iOS app, Remembary, and the first few months of trying to promote it. It was called "Why You Should Have an App in the App Store Even If You Probably Won't Make Any Money".

In Part 1, I talked about building Remembary and launching it in the store. Now, here are some of the things I learned.

Lesson 1: It's a Very Long Tail

It's an achievement to get an app into the app store, but it's just the beginning. Just having an app isn't enough. In fact, the App Store is crowded with apps built by people who thought that simply getting an app into the store was enough. There's been a lot of talk about the new world of endless media, without the middle-men. This is the new world of the Long Tail. Here's another way to look at it. Every book you see at a book store or library was selected by someone at a publishing house. For every one of these books, there are dozens or hundreds or thousands of manuscripts that never made it. People devote months or years of their lives to producing a manuscript, which they then send (often blindly!) to a publisher in hope of getting noticed - and most of these manuscripts are put it into a "slush pile". This slush pile is occasionally flipped through by poorly-paid interns. In The App Store, the default is to be in the Slush Pile. There's no filter, so the bottom end of the App Store is filled with mediocrity and abandonware. Anyone can submit an app - and as long as it isn't terribly buggy or otherwise violating the App Store guidelines, it will become part of the App Store collection. A lot of people finish building an app and then discover that simply being in the App Store won't instantly make them rich - so they give up. But their app doesn't disappear: it stays in the App Store, floating at the bottom of the Slush Pile. And by default, the slush pile is where your app lives, too.

Lesson 2: Sales Have Gravity

The App Store obeys certain physical laws - for example, the law of gravity. Actually, this law of gravity is present in sales in general: all products will default to a 'state of rest' of no sales at all. That's right: by default, without any outside intervention, your app won't sell at all.

On the "ground level" of this gravity system is the mass of "slush pile" apps. To get above this ground level, you need to get sales - and to get sales, you need to expend some kind of effort.

Just like how you can use chemical reactions to launch a rocket into the sky, you can use various techniques to get your app above ground level - at least for a while. If you find a way to really get things moving, you can reach 'escape velocity' and get yourself into the top tier of apps that live permanently in the top of the App Store rankings. Think Angry Birds.

The App Store is interesting in that this 'gravity' is reflected directly in the app rankings. It's even in almost real time - recalculated and published on an hourly basis and available through web tools like AppAnnie and AppFigures. In the App Store itself, if you look at "Lifestyle" apps, or do a search for "Diary" the order in which the apps show up is based almost entirely on the amount of sales they've done recently.

There are at least a hundred apps that show up if you look for 'Diary' - Remembary bounces between 80 and 50, depending on the sales that it got in the last day or so. (Update from the Future: after several weeks of good sales and reviews, Remembary is now at #7 in searches for 'Diary' in Canada, and #14 in the USA).

The truth about the App Store is that most people only look at the top few apps when deciding what to buy. So, to get sales, you need to be high up in the listings. But the problem is, the only way to get high up in the listings is to get sales.

You can short-cut some of this by getting noticed by the App Store curatorial teams - but usually that takes sales as well, so if you're not getting any attention you're still out of luck.

So you're stuck in a Catch-22: you can't get attention without sales, nor can you get sales without attention. Welcome to the real world of product retail! To get above this wicked circle, you need to have some kind of 'push'.

This is the place where advertising and promotions comes in.

So, after the initial rush of friends-and-family died down, I quickly realized that unless I did something, Remembary would forever languish in the slush pile.

So I fine-tuned the website, and Twittered and Facebooked up a storm. I also started figuring out other kinds of marketing. I remembered a friend of mine who had run for office for the Green Party, who went out every day and met people and shook hands - and who figured out after the election that heeded up with as many votes as hands he had shaken. It wasn't the same people, of course, but it shows how attention is directly related to the effort you put into getting out there. In a world where every single sale matters, getting out there personally is important. I got cards printed up and started handing them out to anyone I saw with an iPad. A key personality of effective sales people is a lack of shyness in approaching strangers. I'm a programmer, so I'm a bit of an introvert - but that's something I'm learning to overcome.

Lesson 3: Marketing is Repetition

Here's another thing I learned. I had heard this before, but my experience with Remembary really drove it home: Marketing is Repetition.

I'm going to say that again: Marketing is Repetition.

I thought that I had saturated my social media connections in the first few days of Remembary - in fact, I was worried that I was beginning to annoy my friends. A few days after going live and Tweeting daily about Remembary, I met a very online-savvy friend for lunch - and he asked whether my app had come out yet! He'd missed all of my tweets!

So now every time I have something to announce, I tweet it at least twice.

It's tricky to balance the requirement to get news out to people while not annoying people. I've found that it's usually okay to duplicate tweets about twelve hours apart - usually once in the evening, and again in the mid-morning.

And, hey, by the way, Marketing is Repetition.

Lesson 4: AdWords Ads Don't Work Very Well for iPad Apps

I had heard a lot about Google AdWords, so I set up an AdWords account and started putting money into it to see if I could get more attention for Remembary.

AdWords doesn't really work for iPad apps - I've actually written a whole separate blog post about this. The TL;DR version is that the amount you make per sale in the App Store isn't enough to justify AdWords spending - also, AdWords deceives engineer-types into thinking that adjusting configuration settings is the same thing as marketing.

So, I continued trying various things. I managed to get an article in techi.com. I blogged a lot. I wrote some over-the-top fake diary entries based on the Twitter and Blog feeds of digerati like Giles Bowkett.

I read some good books and blogs on marketing. Software By Rob is a good one, with lots of timely, specific information on building and selling software. His book Start Small, Stay Small was an important inspiration as I got started with Remembary.

Also, if you're learning about how to promote and advertise, check out Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion - on the surface, it's about how to avoid being taken in by the psychological tricks used by marketers, but you can't help but think of ways to apply some of the techniques yourself. After reading this, I doubled my AdWords Click-Through Rate with cheap shots like "66% Off - For a Limited Time Only!"

Lesson 5: Mailing Lists Can Work

While AdWords didn't work out as well as I expected for actually selling copies of my app, I did find a useful service that worked very nicely in conjunction with AdWords. This was MailChimp. There's enough to say about MailChimp that I've put it into its own blog post. Here's the video version:

Those, by the way, are the Glengarry Leads (warning: language!)

So I continued to look at various ways to get attention - especially App Review Sites. As we discussed earlier, obscurity is a big problem in the App Store, so all sorts of sites have come up offering to (maybe) review your app.

The problem is, some of these sites are kind of crappy. Others charge for the service - which seems sketchy, and makes it essentially like advertising, but without the ability to control the message.

My main worry with review sites is, while I like Remembary, it's a bookish sort of iPad app, and in the fall I was competing in the loud and crowded pre-Christmas crunch. If you're an app review site, do you review Infinity Blade, with its revolutionary 3D graphics, Skype with Video Chat that could replace entire industries, Richard Branson's new magazine - or an indie diary app?

I should probably get over this and just try harder. (In fact, I did manage to get a great review only a few days after giving this presentation - this will be covered in its own blog post).

In part 3, I'll discuss what I learned from the competition.

Other Blog Posts
My Expanded Twitter Thread about BurgerWeek 2021 This Is Nowhere: The Server Side Building a React Native App Without Tears - Part 3 Building a React Native App Without Tears - Part 2 Building a React Native App Without Tears (Mostly) This Is Nowhere: The Memento Edition This Is Nowhere: Aspects of Accessibility Presentations About NowHere This Is Nowhere: Head-First Into React Native This Is Nowhere: Bloomsday Halifax This Is Nowhere: Why an HTML/JavaScript Single-Page App With GPS Is A Bad Idea This Is Nowhere: GPS and Wayfinding and More UX This Is Nowhere: The Single-Button UX This Is Nowhere: Don’t Just Stand There! This Is Nowhere: Finding My Duck Finding Burgers Fast: My DIY Halifax Burger Week Site "This is Nowhere" at PodCamp Halifax 2018 The Diary Diaries: Fixing Remembary's Facebook Connection Special Leap Day Edition of "Some Weird Things About Time" What's Up With Remembary Can't get pg_dump To Work Now That Heroku Has Upgraded Postgresql to 9.4? The Best Thing I Ever Did To Promote My App If You Build It, They WON'T Come #deployaday, My Big Hairy Plan for 2015 Extracting Plain Text from an NSAttributedString My Year of "Hits" Part 2: Remembary Rolling My Year of "Hits" Part 1: Remembary Rises (and Stumbles) Handy Little Test Method to Check for Translations in Rails Apps My Suddenly Slow-Waking MacBook Air Indie App PR: Keeping Control of Your Tone A Quick Note on 'clone' in Rails 3.2 My eBook Apps 2: iOS, JavaScript, and Ruby My eBook Apps 1: Introduction Quick Tip: No Sound on Mountain Lion My Upcoming Talk at PodcampHFX 2012: My Year of "Hits" starshipsstarthere.ca: Building at the Speed of Funny Screencast Tips Remembary's Cool New Picture Support Indie App PR 2: Keeping On Top Of User Feedback Indie App PR 1: How to Handle an App Disaster Giles Bowkett Diary Project 2 Remembary Video Congratulations! Welcome to Your Nightmare! How My iPad App Remembary Took Off Why You Should Have an App in the App Store (Even If You Probably Won't Make Any Money) PodCampHFX Remembary Presentation - Part 3 How I Used MailChimp Autoresponders to Promote Remembary PodCampHFX Remembary Presentation Part 2 PodCampHFX Remembary Presentation Part 1 Why AdWords Ads Don't Work for iPad Apps Remembary is Sponsoring PodcampHFX Why Can't I Resize my Views in Interface Builder? Momento and Remembary Concerning Remembary iPad-Friendly eBooks of Gracian's Art of Worldly Wisdom Project Report: PTOS2 A Quick Note on Encryption We're all LUsers Thoughts on HAML Friday Afternoon Hack - Getting Beyond the Basics Halifax Friday Hack and Back to Basics Quote from Wil Shipley FutureRuby Make Web Not War Busy Week I: Toronto Ruby Job Fair Employment.nil - the Toronto Ruby Job Fair Code Count: Ruby on Rails vs. C#/ASP.NET A Brief Note on Twitter The Hub Halifax and Mobile Tech for Social Change Deep Thoughts on Microsoft From The Accordion Guy The Two Kinds of Defensive Programming Presentation - Fixing Careerious: From C#/.NET to Ruby on Rails Enterprise! Presenting at Ruby on Rails Project Night - May 7th New Name and New Look for Careerious/Clearfit FutureRuby and More From Unspace Health Tips for Programmers This tables meme won't die Careerious - Ruby and Rails vs. C#/.NET Yeah I Use Tables For Layout, So Sue Me The Different Kinds of Done Giles Bowkett's RubyFringe presentation OfficeTime: Great Time-Tracking App for OS X Back With A New Look Non-DRY Feed torontorb Keeping Your Sanity With The Command Design Pattern shindigital Is All Grown Up! (according to the spambots) Startup Stars? I'm so bored! The Magic Words for RMagick Jennifer from Operations You see? Naming is HARD Business Software as Process Documentation Deployment note: 'execve failed' Steve Jobs on Market Research Why Canada Is Better for Entrepreneurs "Program first and blog second" Toronto Tech Collage The MacBook Air Is A Roadster RubyFringe! Quote of the Week: Steve Yegge Starting Up: Cards Great design tool: browsershots.org Starting Up: The Logo Quotes Of The Day: Hedge Fund Interview TSOT Ruby / Rails Presentation Night - Part 1 Moneyworks: Accounting Software for Canadians on OS X Starting Up: The Name Nice logo, but why is your site so bland? Welcome to shindigital.com