iPad App Marketing Case Study: Flickpad

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.

And finally, here is a mass of links and contact info:


examsheets – http://www.examsheets.com/onlinetest/TOEFL.htm braindumps – http://www.braindumps.com/testprep/TOEFL.htm selftestengine – http://www.selftestengine.com/test/GED.html certkiller – http://www.certkiller.com/answers/itil-v3.htm testking – http://www.testking.com/techking/tutorials/be-one-with-the-blur-create-a-cool-bokeh-effect-in-photoshop/



39 Responses to “iPad App Marketing Case Study: Flickpad”

  1. George 25. Jan, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    Excellent post with valuable data points. Thank you very much for sharing, Andy.

  2. happybuy 25. Jan, 2011 at 6:11 pm #

    In terms of a price changes for a marketing strategy, in a small way, our startup – happybuy.com can help App developers get the word out. We track prices on iOS Apps and then send email alerts to interested shoppers whenever the price drops.

    If any app developers want to get some free additional exposure for their apps they can search for them on happybuy, enter an email address in the “Want to buy this product at a lower price?” box on the Apps product page and click “Email me when to buy”. We’ll then start price tracking, promoting and featuring your App to our large audience of potential shoppers.

    As a fledgling startup we’d also love to hear any App developers thoughts on of our site and any comments they may have.

  3. Eric Granata 26. Jan, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    Great insight! Thank you for sharing. I’d never have thought to advertise with Daring Fireball.

  4. James Warner 26. Jan, 2011 at 11:05 pm #

    Some very good advice, thanks!

    Re advertising in general, I found a long time ago that advertising MUST pay for itself, in a demonstrable way. Otherwise, it’s not worth it. For this reason, I gave up on banner advertising or similar promotions that aren’t directly linked to a specific sale or purchase decision. Sales people try to sell “exposure”. But sales > “exposure”, any day.

    Regarding Daring Fireball, there’s no way I will advertise with John Gruber. I view him as a mildly malignant force in the Apple ecosphere. I do not wish my company or products to be associated with his brand of sly fanboyism and sniping. But that’s just me, your mileage may vary.

    A Facebook presence is very valuable. Twitter less so, but still useful.

    Devs need to watch out for middle-men offering all manner of sign-up schemes. Basically, if all a company does is offer to (somehow, magically) promote your app (amongst dozens or hundreds), then all that company really wants is YOUR dollars.

    The vast majority of “review” and “listing” sites are either scams or a waste of time. These sites continually shower devs with “awards” and “badges” (5 out of 5!), most usually without ever looking at the product in question. They just want money from the dev, whether through bundling, or more likely, direct advertising. Avoid.

    Regarding front-page coverage at Apple, yeah, nothing else comes close. Getting the Apple front-page treatment is having them print money for you. But to do this, you need two things:

    (1) a stable, stylish, polished app, preferably one that uses Apple technologies and adheres strongly to their design ethos, and

    (2) luck.

    The first requirement is up to you. The second one, alas, is not.

    • teco 12. Jul, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

      James,

      I’m brand new at apps (don’t even have an iphone). When apps came into my mind a bunch of ideas tumbled out, so…

      In your comment: “Regarding front-page coverage at Apple… (1)”, what are the Apple technologies you refer to, or where can I find more about that? Thank you.

  5. Sunil 27. Jan, 2011 at 1:06 am #

    quite an insight chad and i do agree with your pricing logic. Early adapters need to be rewarded. the trade-off between advertising & design budget is always a concern even with us at handylogs.com. thanks for the article.

  6. Kevin 27. Jan, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    Great article and some really helpful information. I have not tested the early adopter pricing strategy but I feel your suggestion is better in our case. Someone like Apple has many followers because of its brand image. Apple can afford to charge high prices because of this. If you are building a brand and hoping to attract attention, a “sale” as you increment the price seems like it would be more effective.

    Have a look at my iPhone applications (TooDoo & iHear Dialer)

  7. mike 28. Jan, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    Great Article- Thanks for sharing.
    I couldn’t have said it better. It’s nearly identical the my findings. My game ‘My Virtual girlfriend’ gained notoriety through a mention by celebrity comedian George Lopez, on his late night show last december. It has also been featured in the app store for a few countries (other than the US). Recently, an MSNBC writer picked it up- started playing it and produced a bit of a negative article- It was posted on MSNBC and Kotaku picked it up and ran with it as well.
    http://www.kotaku.com.au/2011/01/my-virtual-girlfriend-is-real-world-creepy/
    Although negative- people were curious to see what it’s about and form their own opinions of it. As the saying goes: Bad publicity is better than no publicity, (at least in my case). Most users who downloaded the game enjoy it.
    You’re completely right about advertising, Its really not about the short term loss but the long term gain from it. I’ve paid to have “expedited” reviews of my game and it’s been a pretty positive experience for me. As for purchasing ads on sites- It’s about equal. the money i spend on the advertisement is usually less or at most equal to the amount of revenues i’ve received from it. Although it’s no monetary benefit, it does give the game some exposure and establishes relationships and as we roll out more apps and games, that door is now open for communication where it wasn’t before. Most sites wont even respond back.
    Press releases is something that has worked extremely well for me, but that might have to do with the nature of my game is a bit controversial. That’s been by far the best money spent. I’ve used prmac.com and gamespress.com. Also- this service: ispreadnews.com will send out emails to reviewers for you- (and it’s proving to be pretty descent)
    -Mike
    Creator ‘ My Virtual Girlfriend’ for iphone/ipad

  8. Chad Podoski 31. Jan, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

    Thanks everyone for your comments.

    @mike: I totally forgot to mention press releases. Thanks for pointing that out. I used prmac.com as well.

    I have also tried some Facebook advertising recently as well.

    Aloha,
    Chad

  9. kryptomaniac 02. Feb, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    vimov.com did that sort of progressive price increases with iSimulate when it came out. started at $1 and doubled until it got to $32

    Don’t recall what it is now, but it was interesting.

  10. AffPortal 11. Feb, 2011 at 3:49 pm #

    Hey, thanks for the comprehensive write up on your ipad app experience. I’m in the beginning stages of building an app for the iphone first and been talking to a lot of friends about it recently.

    Great points on marketing your app. We developers rarely think in terms of marketing but it needs to be done or they won’t come…

    Thanks, Corey from AffPortal.com

  11. Aubrey Goodman 12. Feb, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    For those who want to transition away from the free/paid split app system to the free/in-app upgrade model, i strongly recommend using InventoryKit (http://github.com/agoodman/inventory-kit). It makes the transition easy and offers some great features for simplifying in-app purchase management.

  12. Dan Verhaeghe 17. Feb, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    There are two main types of mobile media- apps and QR codes…

    Here’s a post that explains that shift in philsophy to QR Codes: mcloughlin.ca/insights/aisle411mobilemarketingoffline/

  13. Simon Strandgaard 19. Feb, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    What really scares me is that free apps easier get a 1 star rating. How can people be so evil in this strange way.

    I’m considering experimenting with changing the price of my apps.

    Thanks for sharing.

  14. Ben Kreis 08. Apr, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    Thanks for sharing the good and the bad. It’s tough to find stories like these amongst all the hoop-la over the big winners of appdom.

  15. Peter Johnsin 22. Apr, 2011 at 4:14 am #

    Thanks for the article. We have been using the free+ in-app purchase (IAP) for MailShot, (our app which builds group emailing right into your address book) and I have found that there are pros and cons with that approach.

    On the Pro side its easy for people to try your app.
    We have had a good conversion rate (very close to 20% of the people who downloaded the free version, and climbing.)

    On the Con side you can’t really use price drops, as no-one is looking at the pricing on IAP
    Some sites just “don’t review free apps”
    You can’t provide a promo code for an IAP review, or use a giveaway as promotion.

    Whilst we get a high proportion of 5 star reviews, we do also get the usual few 1 star reviews expected at the “free” price point. Sometimes from people just complaining that the free version didn’t allow them to create groups as large as they would have liked, I think they feel misled by the “Free” badge because they didn’t read the full description, and think “free” should mean totally free-maybe Apple need a new word for this on the button?

    Peter Johnson
    Soluble Apps
    http://Www.iTunes.com/apps/MailShot

  16. Clint D. 22. Apr, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    I thought this was a very good article. It is very honest and will help me with my new app, Sneak A Peek: Private Pic Sharing. Thank you for the words of wisdom! We have to keep trucking on!!

  17. Jilly smite 05. May, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    Really great Marketing tips, marketing an app isn’t easy but i think all you have highlighted will really aid in the progress of the app. well done. http://www.gtextmedia.com

  18. Patrik Holmstrom 05. May, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    Awesome tips. I just tried the price drop strategie for my game Woolcraft. I started one day with free and after that 0.99 (sale). The day it was free the game was downloaded a lot… I hope that some people then will “spread the word” about the game. To early to say now.

  19. Chris 08. Jul, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    Chad, you might want to change “The second part of course is Release Early,” to read, “The second part of course is Release Often.”

    Thanks for the article! I’ve passed it around the office in hopes that the bigwigs will change their minds about the new release-every-month policy.

  20. Jack Holt 26. Jul, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    Chad–many thanks for this timely (to us, anyway) post. Will be lots of help and def consider trying the escalating pricing tactic. Jack

  21. Jason L. 12. Oct, 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Some very good stuff here.

    It’s impossible to market an app that is no good or just not ready, and that is exactly why developers are struggling through so much clutter on the app store; people are flooding the app store with bad apps hoping to make a quick buck.

    Integrated marketing is so important. It just cannot be the last thing you think of when developing, you have to have marketing in mind even at conception.

    Good luck to all you trying to compete in this fierce app store.

  22. stefano 22. Nov, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    anyone made some experiences with the inverted price strategy (setting a target price and staring with a lower one for a certain time)?

    to my mind its a quite interesting approach and would like to know – if it’s going to work or if it brings to many rumors because new users complain about the prices (even if it was clearly stated out at the launch…).

  23. David Casserly 15. May, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Very nice post that I stumbled upon from userkind. I like the concept of flickpad, its a great UI too. Nice work. Whilst I’m here, I may as well plug my new app, The Gallery for Flickr, http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/flickr-gallery/id525519823?mt=8 which was released today … (hence why I’m reading app marketing articles).

  24. Demetrius Nielsen 22. Jan, 2013 at 3:10 am #

    let us take a look at some of the ways, through which an iPad app people get inspired that type of app we can generate it in feature.

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