Mobile App Marketing with Charlyn Keating

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In this interview, Art Dogtiev, Head of Branded Content at ComboApp, is talking with Charlyn Keating, host of Appreneur Summit, mobile app/game developer, author and luxury travel expert originally from New Orleans and currently based in Orlando, Florida. Over the course of her career, she has helped companies including Wal-Mart, Disney, Mobil Oil and Hotel Monaco with their digital marketing strategies. With a decade of online marketing expertise and a talent for explaining technology in a digestible way, she now helps other mobile appreneurs up their games with tips, technology and inspiration at CharlynKeating.com.

Charlyn is the host of The Appreneur Summit, the #1 online conference for app and game developers. The event will feature interviews with more than 30 of the world’s leading mobile entrepreneurs and app marketing experts, designed to empower app developers to launch, grow and monetize their app networks. The online event is free and is spread over two weeks in April 2015.

We talk about steps for an app developer to launch a mobile app, common mistakes app developers make, differences between consumer and enterprise app marketing, and app marketing trends for 2015.

Hi Charlyn, welcome to Marketing Tidbits with ComboApp!

Hi Art! It’s good to be here!

Today we’re going to talk about mobile app marketing, I could just say app marketing and people wouldn’t confuse it with desktop applications. They will still understand that it was meant to be mobile app marketing. Over the course of these 7 years, since the App Store was launched and later the Google Play Store joined the party, people tried different techniques to market their app on both platforms. Some of the techniques have come and gone some are still valid. Recently, a press-release was an app promotion technique that app developers had really great expectations for. They thought they would get the media’s attention once their press release had been distributed. Once you have the attention of tech media you are going to get lot of app users checking out your app. Once you have lot of downloads you are going to get your app on the top charts on the App Store. But those times passed a few years ago. These days you have a totally different landscape in mobile app marketing and lots of mobile ad networks to advertise your application. Pretty much all big social media platforms provide a tool to advertise your app including Twitter, Facebook and video ads on YouTube. People use social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram to advertise their application. So let’s talk about some of these and other techniques, but before doing that, Charlyn please tell me how you got involved in this field?   

Sure! You know a few years ago, I saw a lot of the games coming up. I always loved playing video games and games that were coming out on mobile were a lot more like games that I was playing when I was younger, the 2D games. Just fine games for me and I was excited by that trend. I thought finally there is a platform where I can make games without having a million dollars and a team of a hundred people working with these huge 3D graphics. That’s what initially got me really excited about it and I put out a game a few years ago and it was nothing, it was a hobby I just wanted to do it to go through that process to see how it ran. It was a lot of fun! We had play testers, we had kids playing it and gave them a survey to see how they did with it and put it out there. It was fun. After that, I was hooked. You know, I would love to do this for a living. My next project was a much more ambitious project. It was an app for people that are coming to Disney World. I live about ten minutes from the road to Disney World close enough to the fireworks and I am there all the time.

It’s great! When people come to visit me they want me to play tour guide and they ask me questions! And I was kind of surprised with all of the questions I got and didn’t know the answers to like “my kid is picky eater, he only eats hot dogs, where can I found hot-dogs?” Well you have to walk a long way to find a hot dog because the food is so interesting there! Or “where can I get some really good whiskey or what is a good sushi place? Or some emergent stuff that you can find in the stores? Where can I find a costume for Elsa from Frozen?” And I didn’t know the answers. I was thinking about how it would be interesting to have an app that could search all of those things. So I launched this ambitious project. I spent a year documenting everything – every shop, restaurant and attraction. I hired an outside firm to help me develop it and put the app out there. Didn’t you do any kind of marketing for it? Didn’t you do any promotions? I just wanted to see how it did on its own and the reviews were very good, but it didn’t take off. I thought wow, I missed a huge step here, which is just the whole marketing part of it. You can’t just put a good app out there that talks to your target market, that addresses the need and not have a big marketing push behind it. There are just too many crowds out there! You got to be able to stand out and you got to get in front of your customers. It started for me as a quest to find out as much as I could about app marketing.

Did you have any competition for your app on the App Store or was it a unique app?

There are many Disney World apps. The company itself has an official app but none of them did what mine does and they still don’t. Nobody is crazy enough to try what I did.

Awesome! Your initial idea, the reason why you are doing the application is so inspiring and so involving. The fact that you are focusing your efforts and time completely on its development is inspiring. It solves a real problem for people. It does something really awesome. It might be the reason why you are focusing on its development and unfortunately the marketing component is basically left out. What are your options? You can easily postpone the launch and begin to work on its app marketing plan or you can try to launch it alone and cross your fingers. That strategy didn’t work for a number of years. Without a proper marketing plan with lots of components, your chances to succeed on the App Store and Google Play were really minuscule.          

You are absolutely right, Art! In fact, it was so consuming between the development, I was really hands on with the development, that is why I hired a team for that. I was basically the team manager and team leader. I was out there every single day documenting everything in the park. Disney World is twice the size of Manhattan. It’s incredibly large so I was out there documenting and once I was done, the question was to whether to get it updated. Everyday I was up there seeing what changed. Between that and getting the app, you know, in my mind as close to perfect as I could. By the time I launched I had about 5000 fans on the Facebook page that I put together. I was kinda thinking that it would be enough. You know, I thought that 5000 people it would be enough to get the word out! But because of Facebook being the way they operate and change, it is just really hard to have people liking your page. Just posting doesn’t necessarily mean that they even see it. That was a tough lesson in social media for me but if I went back there again I would definitely have delayed the launch, as you say, or would have at least made sure that I have enough time in development to really focus to put a marketing plan together and implement it.

Thank you Charlyn for sharing the story on your app development. Let’s talk about the steps for an app developer to launch an app.

You know, I get this question a lot and the first thing I say is that people skip a step, probably the important step in the marketing plan. This is something that I call, find your flock! You need to find the people that are really going to love your app, use your app and talk about it. You need to think about your ideal customer. If you need to, put a face. Go to Google images, grab somebody’s picture and put a name on it. Imagine this person and try to get to know this person as well as you can. This is the kind of person that is using other apps just like yours or very similar in same category. Your app is going to be a game changer for them. It’s going to make their life better. Write all that down! What is he doing now? Where is he hanging out? What groups is he in on social media? What TV shows is he watching? What magazines is he reading? What podcast is he listening to? Where is this guy? You need to know as much as you can about this person. Write it down to get a good picture in your head who is this ideal customer copy, your ideal customer avatar in marketing circles. Understanding this person who you are targeting is going to effect everything in your marketing plan from where you find them to how you craft your message, to what you write, to pictures that you use, everything needs to be focused around talking to this person and what’s important to him/her.

I just can’t agree with you more, Charlyn! Like you said, think about the actual user of your app. What kinds of keywords would they use to look for your app? What kind of magazines or websites do they read? What press release distribution channel should you use to be closer to the websites that these particular people read? What kind of targeting are you going to use for your app promotion campaign on Facebook or Twitter? Particularly on Facebook, there are so many different interests you can choose from to be really focused and narrow in your app promotion campaign on Facebook. You can even think of what kind of movies or TV shows he may like and you can think on what kind of graphics you are going to choose for your ad campaign. This is really a good point you’ve just made. Let’s move to the next topic. We’ve covered app marketing promotion for an app that was developed for an end user. Can you share any insight between marketing your app to the end user or enterprise? Are there any challenges you can share in this regard?   

I have to say that most of my time is spent with smaller independent studios and when I think of enterprise, I have to say, mainly the whole scape has changed. It used to be that you could buy an ad on the Superbowl reaching a huge market or there were few TV channels or some radio stations. There were some major channels that everybody was watching. It was pretty easy if you had the money to reach people through these channels. Now everything is so segmented. It becomes much more about individual relationships and talking to influencers in certain fields and getting the right contacts in place so you can get your message to the right people. The fundamentals are the same for enterprise and end user. The marketing landscape has just changed so dramatically during the last decade. The marketing principles have stayed the same in terms of getting your product and understanding or not understanding your target market, but the way you reach your target market has completely transformed.

Yeah, absolutely! Getting back to the picture of the app user, what would be the most appropriate time during the day/week to approach your potential audience? Are these people on Facebook? It’s not a good analogy because I think that there are not many people without a Facebook. Let’s talk about Pinterest or Instagram or even LinkedIn as a channel to promote your app.

It’s important to know what types of people are on social networks and how they are using them. Facebook does kind of skew older and it might work well for enterprises but when you are targeting individual users, like young people under 25, they are so far away from using Facebook in a big way. Then depending on gender you got about 70% of Google+ users for instance are male and 92% of Pinterest users are women. You need to understand the demographics behind individual social networks and how they are used. Whether the advertising is welcome or mocked. Like advertising on Instagram, which is mocked. Be careful. You need to understand your social networks in terms of presence of your audience in a particular network. If not, you can safely ignore them or at least simply not focus on them.

Right, absolutely! I think that by default relying on a single channel is not a good strategy at all. You have to try several channels simultaneously, just like you are launching several ads with different graphics and text creatives on the specific platform. Later on you pick the one which performs better and stick with it. When you are launching your app promotion campaign via different channels and later on by thorough ROI analysis, you are focusing your budgeting on the channels which do work for your app. You are really attentive to feedback you are getting for your app, which is really crucial and important because you may create a great app in your mind but only if you get feedback from its users are you getting a picture in what parts you were absolutely right and in what parts of your app were wrong. You have to update it. And by the way, having the roadmap of updates of your application is another good thing because if you are going to create a perfect application, perfect in every possible way, you are going to create it forever. You have to launch your app with finite number of features, that are going really well. Think of an iPhone. When it was launched back in 2007 it didn’t have the number of features that you are expecting from your smartphone. Later Apple did the number of essential features the one thing was common that with every iteration the features which were introduced did work well. So you can apply the same approach to your app. You have a roadmap, you know what features would be included in the version 1, 1.2, and so on.

Art, I definitely agree with what you are saying. I would especially like to get back to what you were talking about listening the customers because often we can be so close to our app, so passionate about it and emotional about it that we see it one way and our customers see it in a completely different way. They want to use it in a different way. That can take a lot of app developers by surprise. You have to be prepared to listen to your customers, but to pave it, even your business model should be based on some of these feedbacks. I was interviewing someone from my summit just yesterday and actually we were talking about this and relating a case that I had with Disney World app where I was very specific about putting things in like if you want a Macallan 18 year whiskey, where could you get it, very specific. If you want this type of tequila or this brand of jewelry. I found people looking at the data customers were using the app and searching for food. They were just walking to a place and searching for food. It kind of blew my mind! What are they looking for? What kind of food? You can’t take a step in Disney World without having something offered to you for sale to eat. I talked to couple of people and they said you know sometimes I just want to know what’s right around me, I’m hungry. What is good right nearby that I can check out? I never even thought about it in such a way. After all that was said about it I found myself pivoting on the business model and taking the data that I have and changing it to fit the customer’s expectations of the app. This is something that I couldn’t figure out on my own, I had to listen to them.

Yeah, absolutely! This actually brings us to one of the services for your application, which you can apply, which you should apply you can afford it before launching your app on the App Store and Google Play, which is group testing, focus group testing. Where you can introduce your application to a specific number of people, which do represent your potential audience. This is one of those services, which requires approach. You can rely on the opinion of your relatives, people you know, basically it’s cheaper you don’t have to pay them anything, but they are not your potential audience. The whole point of doing beta-testing with focus groups is that you can get feedback before your application hits the market. Of course, you just cannot create the focus group of thousands of people, but at least several dozens of people will give you the initial feedback on what is good or bad with your application. This service may be too pricy for an Indie developer but if you can allocate a certain portion of your app’s marketing budget on this service, you should consider it because it will help you save later on when your application would be on the market and you may encounter certain problems you could avoid if you had this service in the first place.

I totally agree. There are quite a few services that individual developers can use for free or very inexpensively and of course there plenty of larger enterprise solutions available. You are absolutely right about friends and family, that’s one thing. They may not be in your target audience. Secondly, they may want to spare your feelings. They may just be excited for you and may not give you an honest opinion that you want to get from someone out there who doesn’t know you isn’t emotionally invested in it and may not hold back. And in the game industry we call them “tissue testers”. It’s like someone got a brand new tissue, which was never been touched before when you are blowing your nose so it’s a same kind of thing. We got a tissue tester that never come up to your app before, they are fresh and you are not telling them what it is and how to use it and they are using it and you watching it happen. So, there are so many toolkits out there like surveys within your app to ask you quick questions: 2 or 3 questions there are metrics that you can put in to watch how people are using it and exactly where they are getting stuck and where dropping off and what features they are using. And you can do A/B testing very affordably in your app and change it from your desktop without having the push to another change through Apple review process. So, all of those tools are essential no matter what the size of your organization is to make sure that you are listening to your users and you are adapting your product to what they need.

Very great point Charlyn. I do hope that our listeners will take advantage of this piece of advice and will include that particular service in their app marketing toolbox. So, let’s take a look at 2015. Certainly I am not expecting that we will witness any trends or app marketing techniques that weren’t on the market last year. There is always a connection between certain app marketing techniques they don’t pop-up from thin air but what do you think will be essential and effective in the mobile app marketing field this year?

Well, I think that mobile devices are becoming even more a part of not just our everyday life but of every minute life. You know that Apple Watch is coming up people are going to wear those things 24/7. The phones are already in your pocket all the time. People check them constantly and I am one of those people. If I’ve got 15 seconds that I have to wait for something I’m checking the notifications on my phone. I think it’s really the most interesting to see how developers come up with ideas to make it the positive thing for people. So using your phone or your watch to help you remember what’s important in your life and to stay on track with your goals and your habits and your dreams. I think the more that developers can touch that part of people the more successful they are going to be. The bottom line is that marketing is about getting your product in the hands of the right people. Behind all that, it’s coming up with the kind of product that people are going to want and be really excited about and they want to connect it and share it with everyone else.

Right, smartphones are created to make our life easier and not harder. It shouldn’t be a problem for us like something that you are feeling that you have to use, but you basically hate it because you are just tired of all these notifications. I think it does it for this week. Before I let you go, Charlyn would you please tell our listeners where they can read more about what you do. I know that you have the upcoming Appreneur Summit, what is it about?   

The Appreneur Summit is something that came about because that is something that I wish to do about two years ago when I started. What I am doing is speaking to over 30 app marketing experts getting their secrets of what works and what doesn’t in app marketing. It’s fascinating to talk with them. I got a guy in San Diego who is just sitting down making games and drag and drop programs. He has 10 million downloads already. And there are people who have these huge custom apps with lots and lots of money behind: the marketing, development and also people from companies who are doing services of app marketing. I am really getting a huge breath of information looking at app marketing from every single angle. I think that somebody coming to the summit, which is completely free by the way you can come and see all the interviews for free, can focus on what they have trouble with. It’s everything from if you just have an idea for an app you just get started an app on the app store and it’s under-performing you don’t get the number of downloads that you want or you don’t make as much money as you want. How you can take it to the next level. We got a lot of content for app developers at every level. So I hope that everybody can come and join us and gain some information.

Ok, I’ll make sure to make the link in to the episode description to the summit for people to check it out because the idea for such a gathering is really great. Getting a collective knowledge in app marketing to get a different perspective, sharing such valuable information first hand is really awesome. I really thank you for coming to the show and spending these 30 minutes with me. Thank you Charlyn!

Thank you, Art! I’ve enjoyed it! It’s my pleasure

This is an interview from the Marketing TidBits with ComboApp podcast produced by ComboApp Group, a full-cycle communications and marketing solutions provider for a global mobile marketplace. Listen to this podcast episode or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.