ComboApp Talks App Performance Tracking with App Annie

App-Annie
Any app developer who has marketed their app has used, or at least heard of App Annie. The company provides business intelligence solutions such as ranking, sales analytics and advanced market intelligence for the app economy. In this interview, Art Dogtiev, Head of Branded Content at ComboApp, talks with Marcos Sanchez, VP of App Annie’s Worldwide Communications. The duo discuss the company’s history, essential mobile app performance metrics, app discoverability and possible ways to resolve this $64 billion problem for app developers to crack.

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Hi Marcos. The topic on the table is app performance tracking. Now, I don’t know how many times I have heard App Annie being mentioned as an app analytics provider. If you are an app developer you should really live on another planet if you have not heard of App Annie as an analytics company. I don’t think that many people know the history of the company and the significance of its name. So why App Annie and who is Annie?

Sure, we actually get that question a fair amount. App Annie, well to be honest, App Annie wasn’t even one of the original names that the company was thinking of, it actually predates my time here but i’ve heard the story a few times. App Annie was originally going to be App NANNY, and when the guys were thinking about it the idea was, “oh, it’s something that takes takes care of your apps,” but in the end, they felt it was a little too obvious and a little bit too kitschy and so as they were kind of down this train of thought of thinking about Nannies they starting thinking about well, it’s actually more about teaching you how your app is doing and teaching you about the process of analytics and that’s sort of where Annie just naturally evolved to. There is no actual Annie, it’s a purely fictitious character but really the idea was that idea of someone who would help educate you in the process of understanding – not just what is happening with your apps but eventually also the process of helping you understand what’s happening with the market as a whole.

That makes perfect sense. She does look like a teacher. When I am looking at the number of data points that App Annie provides, there is a large variety. I have been following the company, personally, for a number of years and I see the list of different kinds of information you provide keeps growing with the recent introduction of keywords tracking. From a business perspective, for an app developer, what are some of the core components that an app developer would need?

In all honestly it really depends a little bit on where you are in your life cycle. But pretty much all of our products are really kind of a must-have. And I don’t say that in a totally self-serving way, but it begins with an understanding of the trends in the marketplace, and I think the store stats is a great place to do that. We track over 5 million apps and it’s a great way of slicing and dicing the data for free. And understanding what’s going on in a given category in a given country. That top 50, top 100, those app and see what they’re doing over time, and digging into each and every one of them, really help to give any app developer an insight into what’s going on.

Because typically, it’s going to trend as to what’s favorable with customers and what’s not favorable with customers and you’ll want to understand that so you can dig in and say, “oh, this app did really amazingly well and it’s consistently doing well, let me think about what they are doing? What types of features do they have? Where are they positioning their in-app purchases?” So the store stats really gives you so much trends. Our analytics and advertising analytics products are really focused in on providing any developer, with a single unified dashboard that allows them to see how their ad is doing.

We support over 28 ad networks so you can track both your revenues and your spends on all of those ad networks everything from Facebook, to AdMob, iAd, ChartBoost you name it all down the line, InMobi and Millennial Media. And then there’s, on the flip side, really having a single unified place to see how many revenues and downloads you have across the three main app stores that we support right now, which includes Google Play, iOS and Amazon. So that’s really kind of focused in on basically almost any developer.

And then the last part is our paid product, our intelligence product, and that’s really something you would typically move into more, when you’re sort of a medium to large size company and that product allows you to get our estimates of revenues and downloads for over 400,000 apps worldwide. So really you could start to do things like create KPIs. You can understand business cases for whether you want to localize a product. You could start to look at more depth at trends with specific numbers that allow you to see, what does it really mean to be in the top ten in a given category from a revenue standpoint? How do I market size a particular category or a particular country? Those are the types of things that you can look at and that’s our paid-for product.

Speaking of platforms, among the ones you just mentioned, can you see any other emerging platforms in terms of numbers? We all know that there are three major platforms and there have been a lot of articles written about iOS, Android and Windows mobile. How is Blackberry doing by the way?

Well, from our standpoint, I think there are a lot of app stores that are out there, we in particular support Google Pay, iOS and Amazon, being kind of the three largest, and while I don’t know that we’re exactly a start-up anymore, we have about 275 people now, we still have limited resources so we can’t really support everything under the sun. Our attempt at making a viable product that a large number of people are going to want to use really has ended having us focus on those three app stores.

But you do come up to some interesting scenarios, for instance in China, we support iOS very strongly, but on the Android side of things there is really no clear player. You have Bidue, Tencent, ChowMe, a whole slew of different people who have their own app stores on the Android side. So we track the small, small number of Google Play downloads that occur, but outside of that, since there are so many players we have taken a wait and see attitude because eventually that market will basically settle down and probably be anywhere from two to four major players and then at that point will start to think about who we support. So right now with sort of the limited resources that we have, we really support the largest players only.

So you are playing the same lines as Apple does – focus on the essential part of your business and do not try to do everything, be efficient?

Yeah, which is really critical for us as a growing small-sized company, we need to make sure that we are providing the 80% of what people need so that we can have a strong enough revenue stream so that we can continue to grow as a company and continue to expand.

Yeah, I see. As we are talking about the different app stores, my next question is quite logical. I want to talk about app discoverability. This is the 64 billion dollar question at this point for so many developers, and we see that the number of apps just keeps growing exponentially, probably not as fast as it used to be because there is a certain point of saturation, because quite frankly there are a limited number of ideas that you may implement in the apps, which will be still relevant to people, but still, there are more than two million apps and the basic problem which was the problem for app developers a few years ago still exists and I believe it became even worse. What do you think, personally, about this problem? Is there any solution which we can think of from within the App Store or Google Play or outside those markets?

We know that there are a great number of mobile ads and networks and they have become part and parcel of app marketing strategy of so many developers, but on the other side there is a well known report from VisionMobile company, UK based, which states that if you take the whole number of app developers and the total amount of revenue being generated by app sales, we can see that only 5% or 4% of app developers are getting the bulk of the revenue being generated on those markets. Wat do you think could be a solution for an app developer who’s releasing his app on the app store? What do you think about all this?

At the end of the day, in reality, marketing an app is not really so different from marketing anything else. Sure the avenues are slightly different, but just like there are a million products on store shelves in a Safeway or a Whole Foods, there are a lot of apps that are out there and so you run into a lot of the similar issues – how do I get people to find my product? How do I get people to continue using my product? All of these things are kind of typical of anyone in a product environment. ReallyI think it’s a combination of old and new, so the one thing I will absolutely tell app developers from the get go is don’t forget your marketing basics.

Just because you’re on a new platform, just because you’re on a new device, that doesn’t mean you can throw the baby out of the bathwater. You need to make sure that you are paying attention to things like public relations, direct marketing and direct response. Things like advertising, except now you have a new channel with mobile apps and mobile in-app advertising. You want to think about all of those great and important things that are your standard and traditional types of marketing affair. In addition to that, then you want to think of some of the newer things. On the web we have SEO and SEM, in the app space we now have app store optimization which is a similar concept. We don’t know how the app stores implements their search algorithms.

Unfortunately.

Yeah, we do have some insights into some of the things that affect it – ranking affects it, other things affect it. We can start to look at things like app store optimization to understand what are the key words that we want to make sure that we are using so that when people are searching for a particular style of app, our app will come up in the top 50, top 10, top 5. And then making sure we incorporate those things into our app description and our app names, that is kind of one piece of it. The other piece is making sure you have a great story and a great storyline.

It’s one thing to think I have a great idea, the world is littered with products that came of great ideas that actually weren’t that great (Laughs) when you put them out there. I suspect that we are no different in the app space, so really making sure that you have a product that makes sense and that your niche market is big enough to sustain you, creating a great storyline, making sure you have something to capture people’s attention whether it be through something fun, or something graphical or whether it be through the sheer utility that makes me need a particular product.

Making sure you have a great storyline, making sure that you are paying attention to the basics and that you are doing things like making sure you are getting your product out to reviewers, making sure that you are responding to problems that you get from customers who are complaining about a particular bug or making sure you are responding to feature requests. I mean it’s really not one thing, at the end of it it’s really about all of the different things and paying attention to all of them. Of course that the difficult thing so you have to prioritize, but how you prioritize is going to depend on you, your strengths, the successes of your product, where its strengths and weaknesses are, and then really thinking of that combination of marketing, great products, great product design, attention to detail and first and foremost, listening to the customer.

That’s a great, great point. Essentially we are talking about having a real, solid marketing plan in place. This is a real business and you should solve real problems in peoples life with your apps. This was the case at the beginning when the App Store was just in its infancy and it’s so crucial at this point. To wrap up our conversation, I picked up one of the hot topics which we are all talking about – iOS 8. What are your expectations? What new things/new features do you think will make a difference and be more efficient from the perspective of an app developer? Do you think it can be a part of the SEO strategy?

I mean iOS 8, in all honestly, is something that we are just beginning to look at and obviously it’s newly released and we are really excited about the new Apple phones. Some of the more obvious stuff, like the fact that they just got bigger screens all of the sudden is going to open up a whole new world. We have seen a progression from the very small iPhones and every kind of generation sort of getting bigger, and now we have the 6 and the 6 plus and fairly significant and is really that kind of phablet size, so I think there is a whole host of things that will be happening on iOS 8. Everything from the third party keyboards, interactive notifications, opening up their touch ID to third parties which will certainly be interesting, multitasking, I mean there is a whole variety of different things that are in there and I think what we are going to find is Apple typically tries to really pay attention to a lot those details and they do listen to what their customers are saying, they themselves, kind of go through the same thing.

So I think that we will be surprised and excited by the variety of things that we see happening, coming out of the developer sphere to pay attention to some of those things and it’s everything from battery life optimization on down the line. They seem to have done a significant amount of new things that we are really going to be excited to see how people pay attention to. And its a big market and iOS has very typically been a market that monetizes extremely well. One of the things we have seen over time is that the folks who buy iPhones and iPads do spend money at a significant rate. They monetize well, it means they are willing to pay and partly, of course, these are premium products. You can’t find a knockoff version of it, you can’t find a cheap version of it, there’s really kind of the real deal or nothing.

So there is going to be a whole slew of folks who are paying attention to how they can monetize and how they can utilize a lot of these new features. I can imagine, of course, when they open up that touch ID to other apps perhaps there will be folks who do more things around security and privatization concerns, so I want to ensure the security of apps in a different way than before, it’s not just about maybe locking the phone itself but unlocking each particular and given app. Anyway, I think the imagination and the sky’s the limit, there are lots of neat things that we’ve seen and we’re pretty excited to see what people will do over time.

I see Marcos. So basically hardware drives software? There is no way that the App Store, as a software platform, can develop if there aren’t any hardware advances?

Absolutely. You hit the nail on the head. Certainly there has been this amazing confluence of events where you have lowering in price on the Google side, you have their 100 dollar Android phone, which I think is going to open up an enormous market in the emerging economies. You’ve got more advances from a processors standpoint, they’re faster they’re cheaper. You have better screens, you have bigger screens. The smartphone almost comes to a point where it begins to replace, and in fact becomes the extension or the actual computing device for many people, especially in those emerging markets who would never be able to afford a desktop or a laptop. The smartphone actually represents an enormous market in the likes that we have never really seen before, especially when you think about the fact that all these folks, who would have never been able to afford a laptop or a desktop, will actually have a smartphone within their reach and that’s a really interesting thing.

I see. Just one last off-topic question. Will you buy an Apple Watch next year?

I am sadly sometimes a gadget freak, and so I am looking down at my Moto 360, which I have been playing with, it’s the Moto watch. I have both an HTC One and an iPhone and I will probably get the iPhone 6 relatively soon. In my business it becomes important for me to be somewhat platform agnostic, I need to know about both so I typically always have both. I will probably have an Apple watch. I try and swap around using them so that I don’t get too used to one device and I am always seeing what’s going on. I just recently switched over to the newest HTC one and probably when I get my iPhone 6 in a couple of weeks I will swap out and play with that for a while.

I see Marcos. Thanks for the great interview. I think that does it for this week. Marcos please tell our listeners where they could read about whatever App Annie is up. Also, do you personally have a Twitter account?

I do. My twitter account is @marcosmindseye, you can always follow me there. We are obviously at @AppAnnie and we have our website, www.appannie.com. I highly recommend you start a free store stats account, if you are a developer start your analytics account, and you can always check out our blog. The interesting thing about our blog is that we provide a lot of free market analysis so we will look at market trends on a monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis. We even do joint reports with folks like IDC and IHS so it’s pretty exciting if you just go to appannie.com, you can click on the blog you can navigate through the blog and look at our monthly indexes whether its worldwide or country specific, we have a bunch of country specific indexes that are updated on a month basis or any of our other indexes and special reports.

This was an interview from the Marketing TidBits with ComboApp podcast produced by ComboApp, a full-cycle communications and app marketing solutions provider for a global mobile marketplace.