App Store Marketing: Alternative App Stores – Mobile Highways or Dead Ends?

Stefan Bielau

Stefan Bielau is one of the world’s leading experts on app marketing and is Managing Partner of the advisory firm Dynamo Partners. Stefan spoke at the at App Promotion Summit in Berlin on the subject of ‘Alternative App Stores’ and covered the following topics:

  • Stores Beyond Apple App Store And Google Play
  • How To Handle Fragmentation In Distribution
  • Advertising In Alternative App Stores

We’re now able to share this presentation with you in a number of formats including video, audio/ podcast and the full transcript.

Alternative App Stores – Mobile Highways or Dead Ends? Video

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Alternative App Stores – Mobile Highways or Dead Ends? Audio/Podcast

Alternative App Stores – Mobile Highways or Dead Ends? Transcript

Stefan Bileau: Thanks Richard for a great introduction.  It makes it much easier for me to continue talking also about the app store ecosystem.  Even though I will touch a slightly different topic, which is alternative app stores.

A few words about myself. Started my career in FM radio, had my first encounter with mobile back in 2007 when I co-founded Daily Me, which is the leading mobile video, mobile TV service here in the German-speaking area.  Left the company when we achieved break-even in 2010 and since that day I worked together with three great partners, who are also here today, helping companies to succeed within their mobile services.

What we take care of is usually, we advise on the business side of things, so really figuring out what kind of content, idea or solution you want to mobilize, what’s the right platform, how does it look within the business plan.  We take the project lead during development, then we handle, use acquisition mobile marketing campaigns for you, plus in my opinion the most important part we take care and have a look at your mobile data, AKA mobile analytics.

When doing mobile marketing, or user acquisition for clients, we face the same challenges you guys do or every other mobile developer, as, A, figuring out where, where to acquire the mobile user, in the most cost-efficient way obviously, plus having an effect at the end of the day in terms of reach and revenue.

So, in a very competitive environment, which is the app store, plus facing rising costs in terms of acquisition costs, we have to take care of alternatives, thinking outside of the box, thinking different from mobile ads, push notifications, push networks and so on and so forth, and that’s why we came across a couple of years ago, alternative app stores.

Question to you guys, just to get you going a bit, anyone has an idea what place is shown here on the picture?

Audience Member: Panama.

Stefan Bileau: Panama Channel?  That’s right.  From a developer’s point of view, and in my own opinion, the Apple App Store as well as the Google Play Store is similar to the Panama Channel.  If you’re owner of a cargo ship, you want to reach your certain destination, you have to go through it.  If you’re a mobile developer and you want to reach your mobile audience, your users, you have to go through it as well.

It’s a kind of bottleneck on one hand, it’s very competitive, it’s expensive to get through.  So owners of cargo ships as well as mobile developers have to have a look on alternative bypasses, other ways to get through the final destination or the users, and that’s when alternative app stores come into play.

Before I’m jumping into the details, as you probably know, Cydia, the marketplace for jailbreak IOS applications, is the only significant one out there for the IOS ecosystem, so most of the data and stuff I’m showing is related to the Android platform just because there are more, much more opportunities to, to, to realize when it comes to alternative app stores and app promotion, app distribution.

When sitting down with the client and introducing, introducing him to the idea of alternative, alternative app stores, he’s usually coming back and saying stuff.  You know, “We’ve heard about it, they have strange names, there’s some in Asia, maybe some here in Europe.  So what’s really the deal, why I should consider this being part of my app marketing portfolio?” And I’d like to give you some reasons why and some answers to it.

Well, first of all, there’s extra distribution and less competition.  This chart here shows the leading Android application stores out there in a certain order.  Obviously Google Play, the dominant player in that market, with two and a half billion monthly downloads.

Two years ago, you probably would have thrown me out, because there was, there would have been nothing to show here.  In that roundabout time perspective of two years, some of those players have grown significantly, driving, driving a download volume which comes close to 50 percent, which what Google Play is delivering worldwide, if you just take a look on the, on the leading platforms and marketing places in China combined.

And when I say on one hand they give you extra distribution plus less competition, it”s something you should realize, when for example when you have an app dedicated to a certain category or niche, so it may be a utility or an e-book or a security application, and you really drill down on one of those markets and figure out okay, how many apps are there in my category?  How many competitors are out there? Richard just mentioned that fact actually for FMCG’s and, and drinking companies.  So you see a lot of, a lot less applications might be in that category, giving you an advantage when it comes to the download volume you are able to drive in such environments.

I want to zoom in a little bit on China, because obviously that’s the dominating market, growing like crazy with 300, I think the 300 million Android users by the end of this year in China.  Interesting fact and some recent data from Umang; five point six percent, so around about six percent of Android applications downloaded are delivered, distributed through the Google Play store in China, whereas almost 73 percent are delivered through alternative app stores.

There’s an unofficial number stating there might be something between 200 and 300 alternative marketplaces, app stores only targeting Chinese users and audiences for Android.  So, that’s an important part when running a campaign targeting China or targeting Chinese audiences.  You have to go through those markets.

But obviously there are also other players, which are probably a good way to start when going through other areas.  For example, Berlin-based Android Pit, already grown, doing a tremendous job here in Europe. Already grown to a larger reach in the roundabout eight European countries.  The last number I was able to get is that they have roundabout ten million monthly active users. So if you’re doing, you know, a promotion or user acquisition here in Europe, you have to have a look on Android Pit.

Jumping to Africa, MTN is running the next app store, which is their alternative app store platform, targeting Android users in Africa and nine African countries. Just for example, in Nigeria alone, they’re able to acquire roundabout three million Android users every month.  So reaching out to them you have to go through such local player.

Another example also from China is, sorry, from Asia, is Airtel.  Airtel is a player, for example, in that case who’s able to give you access to roundabout half a million Android users in Sri Lanka.  Sri Lanka, one of the fastest-growing market when it comes to smart phones, especially Android adaption.  Airtel has an app store combining a reach of 500,000 users every month going to that place, downloading apps, discovering new apps from their platform.

So, if you really have a niche product or even a global campaign you’re running, and you want to go into specific markets after you launch maybe on Google Play, you want to accelerate your growth within a certain region, country, or something, you have to find those players.  Identify their user profile, set up a certain targeted campaign, and so on and so forth to get reach or additional reach in, in those markets.

Another reason.  Well, everyone would like to pay Apple and Google Play obviously to put the banner on the feature homepage of their stores, which, as we know, is not possible, but if talking to alternative app stores you can run paid acquisition campaigns. You can run pay promotions with all those app stores out there. Mobango puts you on their Featured List.

Amazon App Store I don’t know if some of you have done the paid promotion with them, they give you a price list, they give you formats like the lock screen, ads, they have store pickers, they have App of the Day, App of the Week.  Just last week we ran a promotion with them for the Black, Black Friday promotion, so anyone has done a promotion with Amazon App Store yet?  One? Okay.

So find, find the person at Amazon App Store, ask them for a price list, you can pay your way up in the ranks.  There’s, there’s an official offer out there.  You get reviews if you talk to them, combining it with the upload on their store page to get extra visibility in their stores.  And don’t forget, still an important part when talking to such players, once in a while they give you access to phone users directly, via pre-installation case.

Very interesting player is the Russian search engine Yandex.  What they recently launched, or let’s say early this year launched, Yandex store, they’re pre-installed on the phones of six Android handset makers.  So the use cases, the user buys their phone, opens the phone, first screen Yandex is installed.  You open the Yandex icon, and bam, you get the certain amount of applications promoted.  If you’re one of them, you get a first, you know, one of the first eyeballs of a new Android user which probably is then able to try out your app.

Another reason?  I love new markets and revenues.  As I said before, Google is really a special case.  The reason why is that two years ago, or until two years ago, Google Play was non-existent in the Chinese market.  So all those local players had the opportunity, you know, to reach out to users, acquire them, and build such reach.

Still as of today you are not able to sell paid Android applications and you are not able to use the Google play payment API when doing business in, in, in China. So you have to go through one of the local players, use their payments, payment solution or something, something similar.

Just as a side note: In Apple, well with Apple you cannot sell apps in Costa Rica and Qatar, three countries not accessible for paid apps. So  that’s another reason, right, unlock new markets.

Plus, interesting enough, if you have a look on some cases, when it comes to user spending behavior, maybe in app purchases or paid applications. One of cases I found is TinyCo, a game developer. They have a comparison here shown how the average revenue per user is doing in terms of smartphone and tablet distribution.  That’s the figure, those are the figures above.

When it comes to spending behavior and revenue per user in different stores, the interesting picture is given below where you see that the average revenue from a user coming through the Amazon App Store is much higher than coming through iTunes or Google Play.  So, taking this into consideration, you know the challenges of paying users and revenues out of Google Play environments or Android in general, if you really tweak your app appropriately, if you identify the right market, and the right store environment, might be a chance to get a higher revenue out of users coming through such platforms.

What I found also interesting is if you monetize via an advertising model within your Android application, keep in mind that the click-through or the click behavior for mobile apps in the regions differ.  So for example, in that company DG Media I recently ran a survey comparing the click-through behavior in certain regions.  In Europe as a I remember right, the average click-through on mobile banners is around right, around about 1.1 percent, whereas in East Asia it is around about 2.1.  And now if you have a look on how people click mobile banners in China, you end up with an average number of three percent.

Having that in mind, having a business model built on advertising and then going through mobile players in those regions, you might see also an uplift on the performance of your banner ads built in your application. Keep that in mind, it’s a revenue opportunity not be foregone.

Well, just to be complete, branding might be an issue.  If you’re a global brand, if you’re a global international publisher, if you want to, want to be seen/recognized by various stakeholders, obviously the users, but maybe some partners, advertisers, sponsors, investors, you have to have a presence, so to speak, in more than one store to really play that game of branding your business, branding your app, building, building on top of that, what such extra, extra distribution can give you.

Everything comes for a price.  It’s not easy to do that.  When we run distribution campaigns through local stores or alternative app stores, we have to tell, we have to recognize a certain amount of manpower is involved, because of the complexity and fragmentation, right?  As I said before, if you just realize running or distributing your app in the ten stores shown in that list, some stores require JPEG for the icon.  Others require a P and G format for your icon to be uploaded.  Some have restrictions in characters when it comes to giving your app a certain name.

That differs, that’s a challenge obviously involved.  There’s no common standard, on one hand.  On the other hand, if you want to play that game really successful, you have to localize your metadata for those stores as well, which puts extra costs, extra resources into perspective. Keep that in mind.

Additionally, to get everything is in sync, in terms of timing, it’s also a challenge, right? The release, and the approval dates, the review dates and times differ between one of those stores or each of those stores. That’s certainly an issue, you know, if you want to run  everything simultaneously.

What we usually recommend is going live with Google Play or Amazon at the beginning, measure the impact that you get, identify those markets and countries where you see traction, where you see a certain amount of downloads, and then you know, setting up a strategy, going forward with local players or different stores one-by-one.

Never try to release your app in more than, let’s say, three stores at the same time.  It usually won’t work because of those things in terms of reviews, upload times, approval processes and so on and so forth.

And obviously, as soon as you go live in, in those stores, you want to measure yourself, you want to see the traction you get, the download rates, and whatsoever. To really get an aggregated view on your global performance in all those stores is also a challenge, right?  Some give you a daily report, others do it on hourly basis, some have a CSV format to download, some of us has nice dashboards.  So it really gets kind of, yeah, messy, to, to get all the stores reported back to you after a certain time and compare them.

Even though I want to also show you two tools, as far as I know those are the only ones available, who can help you overcome those challenges.  Full disclosure: I’m the adviser to the Codango team, a Sydney-based company.  What they do basically is they provide a dashboard. You take your APK, you take all your metadata, you upload it to their dashboard, you choose the stores you want to publish, you hit the button and you go live.  That’s what they do.

And the best part is, after you go live, they give you aggregated report.  So that’s really helpful, when working with the environment of alternative app stores.  They can save you time due to the fact that all the upload process is handled by them, the same way they do when you have an update coming.  They give you the reporting.

Plus, and I think Codango is really, really a good player in that field if you want to do individually some promotion with one of those stores or a couple of those stores, these guys can leverage their partnership because they know those, those players inside-out, they have the API ready, they know the price lists, they are a good starting point to, to get going also with paid store promotion within those environments. So, when talking to them, keep that in mind too. They don’t only have that service available, they also kind of, you know, access to certain apps and promotional places within those stores.

That’s the basic part, or the theory. I’ve tried to come up also with some case studies here.  On one hand I cannot disclose all the things we do for clients, and it’s kind of hard to get really valid data from certain developers. But I found three ones which can give you an understanding how much volume you can expect or setting up a campaign in one of those stores.

The first one is Dailyme. They are in the Samsung top app store. Targeting Germany only. Samsung has its own app store environment.  The Android week was next to listed in this store extensively promoted for a time period of eight weeks at the beginning of this year. They had various features within the store, some social media posts. I’ll give you some visuals to that. They had, you know, promotional banners, e-mail newsletters were sent out, you know, Samsung users of the top app store were seeing and getting in touch with daily media quite a lot.  Social media posts, with some nice pictures on top of that.

The results were the following. In Germany, on Android, daily media usually drives a high-five figure number of weekly downloads.  That’s Android alone overall.  Twenty-five percent, is, since that campaign was run, delivered through the Samsung top app store.

So now, realizing your own download numbers either on a weekly or a monthly base, giving you a perspective what Samsung in Germany can do for you, if, you know, done right.

Telecom runs this top apps program, which is not their app store per se, but it is a kind of environment where, A, you get hosted and featured within a specific Google Play page branded in the, Telecom layout. Plus on top of that they give you certain other promotional tools on the web, in the mobile applications cross-promoting your app featuring you in newsletters, or, like they’ve done here, sending out SMS’s to the Android users.

They were sending out, within 24-hour time frame, almost 760,000 SMS, to the Android users, targeted, promoting this application. By the end of the day they received something like this. And on top of that, you’re integrated, you know, in their specific Google Play page, which is called Telecom Highlights.

So every Telecom user who has an Android and a Sim card from, from T-Mobile inside gets access to that store environment.  And what they have achieved is a two percent download conversion from the 759,000 SMS send out.  They were able to drive within one day 15,200 downloads.  The impact it had here in Germany was an increase in the overall category by 100 ranking points and they ended up in the category, in the top 5.  So just to reflect what you’ve done in terms of paid acquisition, in terms of mobile marketing for your Android app, in a very isolated market obviously, but that’s what they achieved.

And the last use case I was able to get is about probably, all of you know, Cut the Rope, one of the latest releases was Cut the Rope Experiments.  They launched simultaneously in 12 alternative Android stores. In those three stores shown here, that’s SlideMe, Getchar, and Wubango they’ve been able at the beginning to generate three million downloads, additionally, to what they’ve done in all the other stores including Google Play. And now they’re on a run rate of 10 to 15 percent when you take also the other stores they’re using into consideration.  Ten to 15 percent additionally Android downloads on top of their Google Play performance.  That’s what they’ve been able to achieve using alternative app stores.

So, the takeaways as I said, extra distribution, really figure out where are your users?  Where are your markets you want to accelerate your growth, accelerate your download rate? Identify the respective alternative app stores within those markets.  Think paid promotion in those, in those marketplaces.  Think additional things like social media, through their platform. Think about SMS cases like I’ve, I’ve shown when it comes to players like the Telecom top app marketplace and keep in mind that you have to identify the potential reach you can gather to have a basis for figuring out what you also able to justify in terms of the resources, the time, the money you spend on setting up for those stores.

And last but not least, in the, within the portfolio of mobile marketing, page user acquisition, alternative app stores can give you an edge over competitors, so think a little bit wider than the usual banners, push promotions, CPI performance deals, to utilize really, a really cost-proficient environment which can drive your app even further and make your business more successful.  Thank you very much.

Harald: Time for a couple of questions?

Stefan Bileau: Sure.

Harald: We’ve got a few more minutes to, to go, so maybe we can have a couple of questions for Stefan if anyone’s got any, specifically on this topic of alternative app stores.  He’ll be on the general panel later. Any questions right now?  Just raise your hand.

John: John Grotting from Caramelized in Hamburg. We saw the mere mention here of Windows.  Android yes, but very little about Windows.  Where is that? Is that so minimal so there’s no reason to waste time there?

Stefan Bileau: Well I would say spending attention, time, and budget on the Windows Marketplace to figure out how to grow there is probably more essential than finding alternative app stores for the Windows Phone environment due to the fact that the overall performance compared to Android obviously and IOS of the Windows platform is still lagging behind and therefore, you know, focusing on getting the best out of the Microsoft/Nokia environment is certainly key.

And honestly speaking I would not know any bigger player maybe other than GetJar who has a significant reach already gathered, because also the Windows phone platform is much younger than the two others, already gathered some momentum in terms of, you know, being an alternative source for extra downloads for the Windows phone platform.

Timo: I am Timo Kasmeyat. I was wondering about the Chinese app stores.  Is any of those from an operator?Stefan Bileau: All of those are independently run.  China Mobile has one, but I have, I have to look it up.  All those shown here were independently run or recently acquired by Baidu for example one of them.  China Mobile, I think acquired one too recently, but I don’t know the name.

Timo: Korea, I actually wanted to ask about the Korean app store. SK, Telecom, I think had, or used to have, a big store.  Is it still significant?

Stefan Bileau: Yeah, it is.  If you really only look within, you know, Korea to get some additional source, SK has its own app store environment too.

Timo: Thanks.

Harald: Okay. Another question here.

Chuck Smith: Yes. Hi, I was wondering, I heard… Oh, I’m Chuck Smith.  And I was wondering, I’ve heard before that China was rampant with piracy.  Is that still the case or is it something to worry about?

Stefan Bileau: It’s still the case.  So if you release, you can see that if you release a paid app on Google Play immediately, you know, the, the free copies pop up in all those stores in China.  It’s, it’s an, well, it’s an issue you have to deal with when it comes to your monetization model and business model, right.

If you have a paid app, and solely depending on the revenues generated by, from selling this app, I probably would not recommend you to put it just simply for free in the store if you not have bullt-in an alternative model, maybe advertising maybe in a purchase, whatsoever.  So yeah it is an issue, obviously.

Chuck Smith: Are the in-apps purchase also cracked or is it generally not so…

Stefan Bileau: Well, if you integrate with, for example, China’s mobile payment system, then this can give you a certain layer of protection.  There’s always, there are always ways to, you know, jailbreak, crack certain, certain payments or in a purchase offers.  But if you obviously if you work then with those local players, they can give you, they can give you not only the access to their users, but also additional tools, API’s, STK’s, which are a little bit more, with, with all respect, which are more secure than just going by yourself and trying to setting up your own stuff there.

Harald: Okay, any more burning questions?  One? We’ve got time for one more.

Jose: Hi my name is Jose. What’s surprising model for the alternative app stores?  Because you mentioned you can do banners, you can do CPI performance campaigns, and you can do some push with discoveries.  So how does, as a, being an advertiser, which I’m not, but as an advertiser, what’s the added value working price-wise through alternative app stores, please?

Stefan Bileau: So those stores have two revenue streams they’re making money from. A, is selling ads to you if you’re an advertiser.  Promotions, you know, featured campaigns.  The other one is, most or a lot of them are also providing their services to operators.  So white-label app store environments, sourcing certain apps for, you know, special pages within the operator’s ecosystem.  That’s what they get paid for as well. Was that answering the question?

So compared, compared to acquiring users through other channels?  What we’ve seen is if you, if you do it on a local level while trying to leverage everything, you know, through various global stores, then it can be probably up to, other way around, down to 50 percent more, more cost-effective compared to, for example an ad words can pay on a mobile search or the traditional CPI models you, you use within those markets, right?

Targeting opportunities are great.  You really identify immediately those are Android users with a significant appeal towards Android applications.  So you go for it within this channel, reduces your acquisition costs significantly, 50 percent.

Harald: Okay.  Well we’ll have time for more questions during the panel, so another hand for Stefan for such a great presentation.

Many thanks to Stefan for doing such an interesting talk.  You can find out more about App Promotion Summit here