In earlier posts, I wrote about the value of having a mobile app for your brand, and briefly touched on the associated marketing and sales challenges. In this post, I’ll dig deeper into how to successfully launch an app and build an audience.

See Also: So Your CEO Says You Need to Be a "Digital First" Publisher? Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

Unlike the Web, publishers cannot passively accumulate an app audience, but rather need to take a very active role in driving downloads. The adage, “If you build it they will come” doesn’t hold true for apps. The reason for this is that app stores are islands unto to themselves and the benefits of the open Web (i.e., people stumbling upon your app via search) aren’t available. Compounding this issue are App Store discoverability challenges, including:

Limited Search Identifiers. Search in app stores is based on a limited number of key words that you select when you upload the app, rather than the metadata associated with the content/articles themselves. Google just started testing the ability to index and deep link into an app with the release of KitKat but the outcome is questionable, while Apple doesn’t even offer such capabilities.
Too Many Apps per Category. The idea of a user browsing a category (say news) and finding your app is laughable because of the sheer number of apps in any category (i.e., 26,134 apps in the news category alone). Simply put, there are just too many apps for people to browse through. 

Ranking Is a Chicken and Egg Problem. An app’s rank in a store (both for search and by category) is generally dependent upon its rating, but without any downloads the app starts at the bottom of the list. As such, the act of putting an app in an app store doesn’t guarantee any downloads.

Given these discoverability issues, when launching an app you need to have a well-thought out marketing plan. The good news is that as media companies we have a certain advantage over others in that we have media channels available to us that we can leverage to drive app downloads. These “free” channels include running print ads, email ads, online ads and mobile Web ads in publications we control. To drive the most downloads, your media plan should include all of these free channels as well as paid placements on competitor sites/apps (if you’ve got some extra marketing dollars lying around). Three tips to keep in mind are:

Calls-to-Action on Mobile Devices Work Best. In my experience, the most effective tool in driving downloads is to pop-up a “download now ad” when the user goes to your mobile website. The messaging in these “ads” simply ask the user if she’d rather view the content via your app or via the mobile website. This is not so much a marketing exercise, but rather a product development exercise.

Print Ads Require Short-Codes. If you are going to use offline (e.g., print) ads to drive downloads be sure to use a “redirecting” short-code that’s easy to use and remember (e.g.,, rather than the full appstore URL.

Make Money From the “Download Ads”. If you’re smart about leveraging the marketing channels you already own and have a good sales team you can also turn a “download ad” into revenue by packaging it with a sponsorship opportunity. This has been a tried-and-true approach for us at ALM where we’ve sold compelling sponsorship packages to advertisers that combine offline and online channels. These ads typically say something like “Download the new XZY app brought to by ABC” with the sponsor’s brand effectively incorporated into the ad.

To sum things up, driving downloads takes time and effort.  With hundreds of thousands of apps out there, building an audience is as much a function of your marketing efforts, as it is the value of the underlying app.