Long gone are the days when brands could stick out a press release and customers would come and download their app. With 200,000 apps in the appstore (not forgetting Android Market, Nokia Ovi Store and BlackBerry World), it is getting harder to be seen. In the UK, Barclaycard have had a major spend in TV to promote their contactless payment systems. As a result their Waterslide and Rollercoaster games have seen 12 and 10 million downloads respectively. As I recently said at a conference, give me their ad budget and I’ll get you 12 million downloads for an app. NatWest Bank have had a great deal of success with their iPhone app, which was initially promoted through TV advertising (a spend way in excess of $200k). They were greatly helped along the way by Apple using their app in their full page newspaper ads. However NatWest also experimented with O2’s direct marketing channel, O2 More. They sent a message to O2’s iPhone users who banked with NatWest inviting them to download the app. 29% of people did so. The bank won’t reveal the cost of this campaign, but I am certain it was much much less than their TV advertising.
In reality, few brands are prepared to spend the $200k to promote their app. One major music company offered a budget of £1500 to create and promote their app. Just last week another company told me their budget was £3800. That clearly isn’t enough, but similarly it’s impossible to come up with hard and fast rules for the spend on promoting an app. If you are a media channel already then promotion is easy. Britain’s Got Talent had the top downloaded app during the series and it was only promoted through the show. Similarly The Guardian’s highly successful iPhone app has only been advertised in the newspaper. On the other hand, has anyone heard of The Cooperative’s app ‘Grown By Us’? It’s a good app and totally on-brand, but there was no money spent on promoting it. We know that getting an app in the top 100 will increase downloads by as much as 5 times.
Ultimately the point is that there is no simple formula on what should be spend on promoting an app. The key is that there MUST be some kind of app promotion strategy. For some, low-budget guerrilla marketing may work, for others a mobile PPC campaign may do the trick and for others it’s an above the line campaign. There are certainly opportunities with mobile PPC and channels like iAd for developers. This article explains how a developer used this method to achieve top rankings in the iPhone appstore.
The decision on which approach to use will depend on the app, the brand and the available budget. And as with any marketing (and the app itself for that matter), there is no substitute for great creative ideas. One thing is for sure, brands cannot simply think ‘build it and they will come.’