October 31, 2014

Market Maneuvering: Marketing Starts Here

The Market Maneuvering post series will cover various tactical things you, my fellow Android developers, need to do to gauge and improve your success in marketing your Android applications.

When the doors blew off the iPhone App Store on its initial launch, with trivial applications earning developers thousands of dollars per day, I knew that eventually, people would expect the same thing with Android.

The problem is, the iPhone App Store circumstances just don’t happen all that frequently. It is eminently possible there will never be another launch like the App Store’s was, because it had a unique mix of ingredients: a hot piece of hardware, backed by one of the world’s great consumer marketing firms, with some barriers for developer entry (application fees, Objective-C, App Store approval process, etc.), and months of advance notice. By comparison, the Android Market has a nice piece of hardware (but not iPhone-level sales) with negligible traditional marketing presence, some barriers for developer entry (Market fees, Java, etc.) and, effectively, zero advance notice.

Rather than compare the Android Market launch to the launch of the iPhone App Store, it would behoove you to compare it to something more ordinary: a catalog.

After all, any online store, whether it be Amazon.com or J.R. Liggett’s, amounts to a very fancy catalog. The catalog gets distributed to a lot of people, some of those people look through the catalog, and a few of those people buy things from what they find.

Let us say that there are one million Android handsets in users’ hands today. That is how far the Android Market “catalog” is distributed. But, what percentage of those users are actually going to look through the catalog on any given day? 1%? After all, even with the launch, while Android enthusiasts knew the Market was opening, there was little press coverage, so Jane Q. Droidowner might not have realized anything in particular happened. So, maybe 10,000 people a day look at the catalog. How many are going to find your app, either by browsing random categories or searching for your specific type of app? Unless you are highly-rated in an interesting category, odds are only a few hundred people, if that, will see your app in a list, let alone click on it, in a given day. And then, for the priced applications, you have a few hundred characters and a rating to convince them to spend money on it.

All of a sudden, getting just a few sales per day does not sound so bad. Or, rather, it sounds bad, but it sounds credibly bad.

Welcome to the real world. Few products sell themselves. If you want sales, you are going to have to work at it.

In particular, you need to understand that simply having an application listed in the Android Market is not going to guarantee you much in the way of sales, if you do little else. Of course, you will get some sales this way, just as every brand of breakfast cereal on grocery shelves gets some sales. However, those with strong brands backed by marketing (e.g., Raisin Bran) will do better than those that are just on the shelf (e.g., Uncle Sam’s Toasted Whole-Wheat Flakes and Flaxseed). Or, to draw a more personal parallel, having a Android programming book in Amazon.com will guarantee some sales just by people interested in the subject, but it takes a lot of blog posts and a lot of Google Group posts and a lot of other efforts to really get it moving.

Marketing starts with the Android Market. It does not end there. If you want sales, you need to make sure your target audience finds out about your app and goes searching for it in the Market or elsewhere.