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360iDev: Marketing and promotion on the App Store


To start off day 2 of 360iDev here in San Jose, California, Henry Balanon hosted a panel to discuss the marketing and promotion of iPhone and iPad apps. Panelists Brian Chen of Wired, Rana Sobhany (author of "Marketing iPhone Apps" from O'Reilly), Doodle Jump creator Igor Pusenjak, and Playhaven's Raymond Lau held court and spoke to developers about how to promote and market their apps, both, with the press and on the App Store.

The suggestions ranged from the broad ("have a good idea") to the specific ("Use the What's New section in the App Store to promote your other apps"), but over the hour or so, the panelists came up with a lot of solid advice for developers looking to get the word out about their App Store offerings.

One of the repeated pieces of advice sounded like something that you'd tell suitors who are looking for potential mates: "Be yourself." Both App Store audiences and the outlets that serve them (Chen acted as a representative of the gaming press) are interested in developers and their stories, so if developers can tell their stories honestly, in a way that will get their audience interested and involved in App Store apps, they'll have a good chance at getting their apps to the people who will want to buy them.

Just having an app or a story isn't enough, of course. Pusenjak said that persistence was another key factor for both marketing across as many different outlets and avenues as possible, and keeping up that marketing, even when it seemed like success was upon you. He and his brother were well into development on Doodle Jump 2 when they realized that, by pushing updates and promotions in the right places, they could actually keep sales of the first game going. Next, they decided to redirect development towards supporting the first title, rather than diving into the second too quickly. He said that successful developers had to be in it for the long haul. "Don't be disappointed by having ten Twitter followers -- talk to the ten that you have," he said. He also communicated that the work does not stop, even when an app gets featured or enters the top 10 on the App Store. "If anything," he said about being featured by Apple, "you have to work more, not less."

Sobhany talked at length about pricing. Even pricing is marketing, the panelists said. Sobhany said that she'd started fights with developers at past conferences about pricing their apps higher than 99 cents. After lambasting a group of developers at a previous conference for falling down to a default price of 99 cents, she said that devs came back to her afterwards and were surprised at the amount of money they'd made by raising their prices just another dollar. They all figured that their apps wouldn't sell unless they were priced at a dollar (or free). If an app that's worth a higher price isn't selling at that price, she said, "you probably didn't merchandise it appropriately."

Fortunately, she said, the iPad is setting up another "clean slate," and most developers are staying at the higher app prices there rather than falling back into old ways. However, all of the panelists agreed that pricing, like everything else with App Store apps, is marketing itself. Everything you do as a developer should point towards making your app accessible and interesting for them.

At one point, the subject of metrics came up. Most developers have difficulty figuring out what kinds of marketing and promotion actually help their apps. For example, if an ad runs or a promotion begins, it's very hard to determine if sales were made possible by that specific action. However, Sobhany gave a good general direction: Don't waste money on the stuff that doesn't work, just go with what does. Try a lot of things, and invest in a few good ones.

While the tweets scrolled behind them, the panelists at this morning's presentation gave some excellent general advice to developers of iPhone apps.

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