iPad App Marketing Case Study: Flickpad

On January 25, 2011

Chad Podoski develops apps for the iPad and is the founder of Shacked. His first app is called Flickpad, a great looking app that interfaces with Flickr. You can read our interview with Chad here.

Getting your app noticed in the iTunes App Store is a monumental task. With 330,000+ iPhone apps and 60,000+ iPad apps at last count, having a solid marketing plan is a necessity if you want to even have a chance at success. When I launched Flickpad on the day that the iPad was released, I had been so busy coding, that I had given zero thought to any type of marketing plan. Thankfully I quickly recognized the huge oversight. After 8+ months, Flickpad has come a long way and I have tried a plethora of marketing approaches; some successful, some not even close. My hope is that you can learn from this experience, and that it helps you effectively market your iOS app.

Release Early, Release Often? Not on the App Store

As I mentioned above, we released Flickpad on the day the iPad launched. We made the decision to launch early because we wanted to participate in the initial launch of the iPad. The benefit of this decision was minimal, but the long term effects continue to hurt. That first release was not nearly as robust as it should have been, and as a result we got a healthy number of 1 Stars on it. Those 1 Stars, rarely, if EVER, go away. Once a user deletes an app, it is highly unlikely they will ever come back to it. So Release Early, I don’t recommend it.

The second part of course is Release Early. It is great to constantly be refining and adding features where they make sense, but it tends to work against you in the App Store. This is especially true if you didn’t follow the Release Early guidance above. Prior to getting five ratings on any app update, the App Store displays ratings from all your versions up to that point. You also start over with reviews on each new update. Small things can make a big difference. When a customer sees an app with zero reviews and a rating that doesn’t accurately reflect your latest update, it sure doesn’t help your case. You should therefore try to plan larger releases and only push an incremental release if there is a critical bug that needs to be patched.

This is a little bit of a tangent, but still related. If you are developing an app that relies on any type of 3rd party service (in my case Facebook and Flickr), make sure you include some type of mechanism in your app that can notify your users of problems/outages with these 3rd party services. Otherwise your users won’t differentiate between a problem in your code or one originating with the 3rd party. Remember that you will be getting the 1 Stars, not Facebook. If you explain any outages promptly, most of your users will understand. Facebook in particular caused me huge headaches when they were going through their permission model changes, OAuth authentication, and Graph API transitions. I think server changes broke the Facebook authentication in Flickpad 3 or 4 times. Hello 1 Star… Yes Sir, May I have another?

Falling on Deaf Ears

The first avenue I explored in app marketing was in trying to get some review site coverage. I tried all the major ones that I could think of – TUAW, MacStories, Macgasm, TiPb, 148Apps, iPhone.AppStorm, AppShopper, theAppleBits, etc. with varying levels of success. Understandably, the smaller the review site, the quicker they get back to you and generally more willing they are to cover your app. However, some of the bigger names are really cool as well. The guys over at MacStories have been amazing since day one and I can’t recommend them enough. Developer friendliness aside, they are probably my current favorite app/news/review site. On the other end of the spectrum, some won’t respond to an email unless you sign over your first born child …. you know who you are, lol. Remember not to take it personally and stay persistent. Your best approach is to network like crazy. You will be amazed how interconnected everyone is, and it carries a lot more weight when an app is recommend by a friend instead of by the app developer.

Unless you can get some type of exclusive with one of the bigger sites, get as many as possible to cover you. If you can organize the reviews so they all come up simultaneously or at least close together, that should give you the biggest benefit.

And the Money Started Raining Down from Cupertino

Ah, the Apple recommendation, it is a thing of beauty. More than any other type of press, getting featured by Apple on the App Store opens so many doors (not to mention makes your sales numbers explode). We were fortunate enough to have Flickpad featured by Apple in the ‘New and Noteworthy’ section for almost a full month last summer. Unfortunately, your marketing plan can not just be ‘Get Featured by Apple’. There is not much guidance I can provide here, other than to polish your app as much as possible and market it in all the other ways possible to hopefully get someone’s attention at Apple.

Yeah, big spike #1

Oh, and remember all those Facebook server changes that resulted in outages of Facebook access for Flickpad …. yep, they happened right in the middle of us being featured. 1 Star, oh how I love you, let me count the ways. We only just recently surpassed the number of 1 Stars with 5 Stars. Our ratings are crazy, large spikes on each end of the rating scale and a small number in the middle.

Curse you, 1 stars!

Professional Screencast – Worth the Money?

It really depends on what your app does as to whether it warrants the cost of a professional screencast. For example, I don’t necessarily think a calculator app warrants a screencast, even though some of those have made hundreds of thousands of dollars. In that case, the app design speaks for itself and people are familiar with the concepts presented by the app. We had great success with having a professional screencast made by the guys over at HiLo Media. In our case, a big part of the allure of Flickpad is the fluid and dynamic manner with which you can interact with photos. The screencast was a great, concise way to expose the user to this. A screencast also boosts your chances of getting picked up for reviews by the app review sites. After reading through a ton of ‘Review my App’ emails, I’m sure reviewers love being able to watch a great screencast to make their decision.

Review Site Advertising

Money talks. If you can’t get review sites to pick up your app, and you really feel it has a great shot at hitting, explore advertising on some of the them. You will get exposure to the same users, albeit with a little less but more sustained impact. I have advertised on two different review sites and overall have been really happy with the level of exposure for the cost. Regardless of how long you advertise with a site, it also starts a relationship with the site. Foster that relationship and you may just have an ally next time you are planning an app release.

Speaking of Money, Daring Fireball

For the release of Flickpad 2.0 (added support for Flickr), we planned a multi-prong advertising/marketing push. One of those prongs was a week long sponsorship of Daring Fireball. Pretty much how it works is, for a good chunk of money, you get a mention and John’s opinion of your app/product on Daring Fireball at the beginning and end of the week. The level of exposure was great and I definitely think it was worthwhile if it falls within your advertising budget. If it takes up more than 50% of your advertising budget, I would recommend closely looking at whether it is the best option for you.

Yeah, big spike #2

I believe the impact of the Daring Fireball sponsorship, while large, was much less than it could have been due to my own mistakes in app pricing. Prior to version 2.0, Flickpad was priced at $4.99 and had seen pretty stable sales numbers. Remember we were still coming off the high of the Apple recommendation as well. $4.99 for a Facebook photo app. Ok, add Flickr and you get two photo apps in one, making it a fast, one stop shop for keeping up on all the latest photos your friends and family are posting. Price: $9.99, seemed logical. What you will come to find is the $4.99 price point or the “What? You want me to pay more for an app than my morning latte. No way!” price seems to be the current inflection point where customers start seeing the app as ‘expensive’ (at least for iOS apps). Had I known then, what I know now, I would have lowered the price to 99¢ for the entire week of Daring Fireball, and blown out a ton of volume. Don’t worry about losing money on short term price changes. There are millions of potential customers, and millions more new ones each week. Instead, focus on getting your app in front of as many people as possible.

Tweet, Tweet

Another prong of the Flickpad 2.0 release was a twitter contest. The idea was simple – give away one Flickr Pro account daily for five days and one iPad as the grand prize. I have mixed feelings on the effectiveness of this effort. It did attract a lot of attention, but I think maybe the iPad was too valuable, and it shifted the target Twitter audience too far away from “iPad owners interested in photo apps” to “Twitter users who just like to participate in giveaway contests”. Regardless, some of the participants, contest types included, have been some of our strongest supporters, and continue to recommend Flickpad to their friends and family on Twitter. It did provide a large Twitter following to help get the word out about new Flickpad updates, so it still continues to pay small dividends today.

Too Lite or Not

After Flickpad 2.0, I released a feature-limited free version of Flickpad. The idea was to allow those who only wanted to follow a small number of people to use the app for free. Well that backfired, as people didn’t see enough photos from the limited number of friends, and ended up deleting the app and rating it poorly. I have since tested out an ad supported version of Flickpad and it has seen quite a bit of downloads. The only reason I mention this is that, if you are considering a free version of your app, carefully consider what functionality it will support and make sure it is enough to provide for an enjoyable experience. I find that people who rate free apps tend to be the harshest of all, as there is zero cost to participate. They start off not being sure if they liked the app, but since it was free, they try it. Once it is confirmed they don’t like it, you rarely get anything other than a 1 Star. The only other comment on free versions is that I think they only make sense when your paid version is priced $2.99 or up.

Price Changes

No app marketing post would be complete without at least a short section on app pricing. What can I say – I don’t have any answers here. I think it is a little bit of a black art. Flickpad has been priced all the way from $9.99 to 99¢. There are a couple things I can say for sure though. One, keeping your iOS app at $4.99 or under will make life a lot easier. And two, use short term price changes and specials to your advantage. There is rarely if ever any negative feedback from users on running specials, and you get nice bumps from when the price drops are picked up by all the app watchers.

I recently had the thought of a new pricing strategy for our next app release. The idea is to decide on your target price for your app, say $3.99. At launch, clearly outline that the app will increase in price periodically until it reaches it’s final price of $3.99. Sell it at 99¢ for a week, then $1.99 for a week, then $2.99 for a week, and then settle at $3.99. The idea is to reward those early adopters, while also quickly seeding the app to generate some word of mouth advertising. I’m curious to know if anyone out there reading this has explored a strategy like this. It is the opposite of what most do, Apple included, where early adopters pay top dollar, but it sure makes a lot more sense to me.

Post Mortem

Looking back, I learned a lot from the different advertising and marketing strategies I tried. Hopefully you have as well. Overall, I am pretty happy with all of the decisions I made. One thing that I would have done differently, however, is to spend a little less on advertising over the long haul and instead put that towards a larger design budget up front. Easier said now though, when I have the resources for a design budget, as opposed to early on when that money didn’t exist.

What Next?

Flickpad is at a crossroads and we are trying to decide how and if to move forward with it. I have recently hired a great designer by the name of Dustin Schau to create a new app icon for Flickpad, as well as explore some new Flickpad 3.0 UI ideas. I’m not sure whether it makes the most sense to put the effort into a 3.0 update or to instead focus solely on our next app. Also, in the short term I have lowered the price point to 99¢, as well as pulled the free, ad supported version from the App Store. I will probably just let it ride for a little while and see if we can increase download numbers.

I hope you enjoyed this post and learned something from it that will help you in marketing your own app. If you haven’t tried Flickpad, and you like Flickr or Facebook, please give it a shot at it’s new, limited time, special price of 99¢ :). Any help you can provide me in burying those dreaded 1 Stars from early on in Flickpad’s life, would be greatly appreciated.

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