Actor, host of one of my favorite podcasts, writer, and comedian, Kevin Pollak, reminded me of a truth about success in a recent interview with actress Anna Faris: those who wait around for the phone to ring typically don’t achieve much. Performers, entrepreneurs in the purest form, know that they have to make their own breaks.
I was reminded of this after following Apple’s annual WWDC, a conference that Apple says attracts 5,000 third-party software developers and 1,000 Apple software engineers. As in previous years, Apple used WWDC to announce its latest version of the software that runs its iPhones, iPad and iPod Touch devices: iOS 8.
Having attended several developer conferences as a marketer, not a software engineer, I find myself drawn to sessions designed to help developers manage the trinity of app distribution, monetization, and marketing. What news does WWDC offer mobile marketers like me?
Turns out, not much. While WWDC offers some value to an audience interested in these three critical aspects of the mobile business, it’s clear to me that Apple’s main message to developers is “Your business success is yours to make.”
That’s because none of its announcements, summarized well here by TechCrunch, will relieve a developer of having to actively and aggressively market its apps. They include:
- Recommending apps on the lock screen based on location. E.g. a user’s iPhone might detect that the user is in a Home Depot store and surface the Home Depot app.
- Enabling users to respond to push notifications without having to leave the apps they’re currently using.
- Inviting developers to create and post videos of their apps alongside screenshots when publishing apps to the App Store.
- A “Trending Now” category in the App Store, similar to social networks, to give popular apps immediate attention.
- The ability to publish apps in bundles.
- Continuous scrolling within app categories so that users don’t have to tap to view more listings.
All of these represent improvements. They do not, however, change the inescapable reality that the App Store has 1.2 million apps, that users access those apps from four, eight, and 10 inch interfaces, which are tiny compared to brick-and-mortar retail environments, and therefore getting customers to notice your app remains an enormous challenge.
Despite these challenges, most developers, big and small, under-invest in their marketing. They put more emphasis on technical innovation than marketing planning and execution, the implication being that building a better app will be enough to capture the attention of enough customers to generate self-sustaining profits.
It’s easy to make that mistake when looking at Apple itself and reflecting on Steve Jobs’ disdain for market research. Still, don’t confuse that with devaluing marketing itself. After all, Apple reported spending $1.1 billion on advertising in its annual 10-K released in late 2013. As a percentage of total revenue, that’s less than some of its tech rivals, but it’s still a significant sum.
Looking for tips on how to market your app? Review this post I wrote on the topic just about four months ago. Looking for a form of entrepreneurial inspiration and some good laughs? Listen to Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.