October 10, 2011, 12:32 PM

Mobile Commerce Forum: Start small and cheap with app marketing

Marketers need to drive downloads of their apps to get attention in app marketplaces.

Lead Photo

Justin Johnson, Sierra Trading Post

Retailers can easily spend $30,000 or more to develop a consumer-pleasing mobile app, but with more than 800,000 apps available across the Apple, Android and Windows marketplaces, marketers need to make sure their apps grab consumers’ attention, said Justin Johnson, a web and app developer for Sierra Trading Post, this morning during his presentation at Internet Retailer’s Mobile Commerce Forum in Houston.

“When you look at what apps are popular on the top lists in the marketplaces, it’s a rare day that you see a retailer in there,” he said. “It’s hard to drive downloads of your app when there’s a million other apps out there.” Standing out in Apple’s app marketplace is even more challenging, he said, because, unlike Android, it doesn’t have a Shopping category for consumers to use to sort available apps. Instead, Apple lumps retail apps into a general lifestyle category.

So retailers need to take an aggressive approach to driving app downloads, Johnson said. He recommends they first promote the existence of their apps on their web sites and via e-mail to customers. It’s inexpensive, Johnson said, and a good way to drive early downloads and get feedback from consumers about what they do or don’t like about the app. “It’s the cheapest way to see how users are engaging with your app, and for you to see if your app needs adjustment before you spend big money on an ad campaign,” he said during his session titled “If you build the app, you have to do something to make them come.”

Paid search ad campaigns on mobile are more expensive than on the broader web, he said, because fewer ad locations are available on mobile’s small screens and that drives up cost. If a retailer does use paid search, Johnson suggested having the ad’s link take consumers directly to an app’s download page on the Apple or Android marketplace rather than the e-retailer’s mobile web site. He said that ad programs available from search engines Google and Bing enable retailers to create one ad, but direct the consumer to the app marketplace page appropriate for the consumer’s device. For example, an iPhone user who clicks an ad will go to the app’s download page on Apple’s marketplace; an Android user clicking the same ad will go to the Android marketplace.

Johnson said a blast ad campaign that puts paid ads all over the mobile web can also raise an app’s visibility in Apple’s top lists, which are based on the number of downloads. But they are costly. To get a game, for example, on the top list in Apple’s marketplace might require 100,000 downloads in a day, which, supposing a 2.5% conversion rates, means driving about 4 million clicks. Supposing the cost per click is 25 cents, that’s a cool $1 million in ad spend.

Once a consumer has downloaded an app, Johnson recommends that retailers direct that shopper to use it, such as by directing all communication links, like those in promotional e-mails, to open within the app, rather than on a web site, so the consumer doesn’t forget he has that app. “We want to make sure clicks from an e-mail campaign drive to the app,” he said.

Sierra Trading Post is No. 88 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.


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