You've Built It, Now Sell It
"I’m going to stick it on the iTunes store, and hope for the best!” If you’re a mobile app developer, does this sound familiar? Well, the quote is actually from Mark von Sternberg, a filmmaker and director of Love Simple, before a marketing strategy was implemented after his movie ran the festival route and received no distribution offers. He partnered the film with two lupus organizations for cause marketing programs (the lead character portrays a lupus survivor), and developed a review strategy involving bloggers, and a comprehensive media outreach program, that allowed the film to gain an audience and an international distribution deal.
“I got lucky, but in the future I’m not going to wait until production is done before I start to think about marketing,” von Sternberg said. “I’ve seen what an effective and well-thought out campaign can do.”
It was Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference last week, or as it is otherwise known, Oscars week for app developers. Which begs a question: what do aspiring filmmakers and app developers have in common? Quite a lot actually, when you think about it. Most notably though, filmmakers, like app developers often forgo the marketing process for their productions.
“I think many filmmakers shun, or even disdain in a way, the notion that they have to ‘sell’ their film,” explained Stephen R. Greenwald, a former film industry executive, current producer, and author of This Business of Film. “There is sometimes a naive belief that the ‘film will sell itself’. It won't; it has to be sold. Consumers will not make the effort or take the time to search for products they have never heard about.”
Build it, and they won’t come
Many films, like apps, are never discovered by their audiences, and these productions are similar in other ways. They are, in most cases, well produced crafts by creative individuals, with a particular audience in mind and usually accomplished with tight budgets; however, in the end, many films, like the plethora of apps, are relegated to a small and crowded space on the iTunes store. And, mobile app developers and filmmakers have a shared attribute: many times, they don’t feel the need to market their product. And considering the daunting numbers app developers in particular are up against, that’s a bad idea.
This past March, Apple made headlines by announcing it had recorded 25bn app downloads by users of more than 315m iPhones, iPads and iPod touch devices. And, according to an article just published a couple of weeks ago in 148apps.biz, there are 657,575 apps available for download on the iTunes store. Those apps were developed by 163,909 active publishers listed in the US App store – that’s more than the population of Napa, CA, the favourite get-away destination for the folks from Silicon Valley.
“If you build it, they won't come. There are nearly a million apps and more becoming available every day by a growing number of developers, resulting in a fight for limited iTunes storefront and phone icon space, so developers need paid marketing and viral hooks in their app to succeed,” points out Nihal Mehta, an entrepreneur and a noted expert in the emerging adoption of wireless technology for media properties and consumer brands.
Consumer brand an app
The importance of implementing a creative marketing strategy to launch a brand's consumer product cannot be stressed enough. Doing so inevitably helps brands get higher visibility for their products on retailers' shelves. Simply writing and distributing a press release about a new product, or app for that matter, is almost pointless. The media are inundated with tens of thousands of new product (and app) announcements each day. The likelihood of having a press release picked up is minuscule. Thus, the advice to budding filmmakers, and to developers, should be the same: treat your creation not as a work of art, but as a consumer retail product; thus, hire an expert to develop and implement a marketing plan.
One filmmaker, who became a developer, did just that. Rania Ajami, the director of the feature film Asylum Seekers, and the documentary, Qaddafi’s Female Bodyguards, recently started a children’s mobile content company called Jumping Pages. As she did with her films, Ajami was adamant that the first production from Jumping Pages employ a smart and strategic marketing and promotional plan at the outset.
“When we began production of our critically acclaimed version of the epic David and Goliath story book app for kids, I realized that we needed to incorporate an effective marketing strategy early, which was particularly important since it was our first production, and there was already a David and Goliath children’s app book available on the iTunes store,” said Ajami. “It worked, and as a result, we are implementing and crafting marketing strategies aimed at the consumer, at the earliest stages of development for our upcoming mobile productions.”
Films and apps, like all types of consumer products, should begin to formulate marketing strategies at least three to six months from the start of the release/launch date. As a matter of fact, while you’re reading this article, vendors and consumer brands are working with retailers who are in the throes of planning their holiday initiatives. These brands are all vying to get their products on the “hot” holiday lists touted by retailers during the make-or-break holiday shopping season (think of it as being placed on Apple’s feature page). Likewise, app developers need to think ahead and plan a launch date that might coincide with a newsworthy or seasonal event that reflects the functionality of their mobile application.
Apps in season and fashion
App developers should take a cue from the recent launch of apps by some leading consumer brands. Crystal Cruise Lines and Orient Express, two travel brands, recently made apps available to their customers, launching them last month to coincide with the start of the summer travel season. Michael Kors launched an app for moms at the beginning of May, which coincidentally, is when Mother's Day is celebrated. And, French shoe and accessories brand Christian Louboutin just introduced an app for its customers to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of its designs and the availability of its summer collection.
Making it seasonal and timely is what Future Games of London did with its Hungry Shark game. After a small, targeted launch in the UK, the company timed its US release to coincide with Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, and the app was able to climb to the number one spot as a result. Great exposure helped as well.
Favourable press and reviews are paramount to consumer and luxury brands and retailers who introduce their items at marquee events like New York’s Spring and Fall Fashion Weeks. These annual events draw the attention of reporters and bloggers from around the world. Thus, it makes sense to showcase a new product when all of the influencers are in the room. Using the high-profile venue of South-by-Southwest (SXSW), the developers of Glancee, Ban.joy, Sonar and others introduced their apps to great fanfare at this much-buzzed about festival this year. And, what better time to announce upgrades to the number one app, Facebook, that makes the social network app easier to use and more compatible with iOS than during last week’s WWDC.
Don’t shelve marketing
As Greenwald points out, “…a smart indie filmmaker today will attach a marketing person to her or his film at the start of the development process.” As app developers hire graphic artists, programmers or animators for the development of their applications, they should also simultaneously engage a marketing person, who can work with the team, and suggest marketing and PR tactics that might be implemented in the application during the production process. Once the nuts and bolts are in place for both the app and the marketing platform, chances of success improve significantly.
“Of course developers need to have a great app, but that alone is not sufficient,” said Cedric Sellin, Founder and CEO of YogiPlay, a mobile learning apps service designed specifically for children and parents.
Just like the retail world, it’s not enough to have quality merchandise. Consumer brands that make it onto the shelves of a top retailer are assumed to have good products. What differentiates those products is how they are marketed to the shopper.
"Vendors who ultimately succeed are those that inevitably create excitement through some type of launch activity and marketing support behind their products," said Deanna Williams, director of media relations at Macy's. "As a company, it’s impossible for us to promote everything that's available in our stores. It's up to each vendor to compete to grab the attention of the customer."
Similarly, developers can’t rely on Apple, Google or Amazon to promote their product. Nor can they afford to gaze at their production and imagine it as a fashionable blockbuster hit like The Devil Wears Prada. Instead, they should treat it like Prada shoes, by putting someone in place who has walked the marketing walk, and who will help make that app dance off the cluttered iTunes store shelf and grab the attention of the shopper.
So, after developers are finished revelling in all of the excitement and buzz of WWDC this week, and return to their studios to implement all of the latest production technology they soaked in, they would be remiss if they didn't also implement a cool, thoughtful and strategic marketing program. Who knows, with the right combination of production and promotion, their app may ascend to the top of the charts, and help make them a star at next year's Oscars...err WWDC.
John Casey is founder and a director of Freshfluff