5 Tips for Marketing Your App on a Modest Budget

By David Oragui / 13 November 2018

Many businesses don’t understand exactly how much money they should be spending on their mobile app marketing to succeed. Learn five tips that can help a small business successfully market their app on a tight budget.

Business owners who create a mobile app to effectively engage with their customers often struggle to promote the app and acquire loyal users. Just building an app and putting it in app stores is not enough. 

As of the first quarter of 2018, there are 2 million apps in the Apple App Store and 3.8 million in Google Play.

Number of Apps in app stores
Source

With the competition running high, you can no longer expect to gain a significant number of users simply by people stumbling upon the app. 

Marketing your app can require a significant investment, both in time and money.

This article will first explain why companies must think beyond development costs, and then provide five tips your business can use to successfully market your mobile app without busting your budget. These tips are:

  • Visualize Through Social Media
  • Go Viral with a Video
  • Value Earned Media 
  • Plan an App Party
  • Incentivize the Audience

Taking this varied grassroots marketing approach can maximize your reach while minimizing your spending on promoting your mobile app.

Budgeting Beyond App Development 

According to a recent survey by The Manifest, a majority of businesses dedicate a significant portion of their total app development budget (more than 31%) to marketing efforts. In previous years, businesses developed their app marketing budget by using a formula to determine their cost per install (CPI) figure:

Budgeting for App Development
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Today, CPI is not seen as a central measure to determine the success of an app marketing campaign. Just getting someone to install the app does not produce ROI for your business, so you have to go above and beyond just getting the app installed on someone’s device.

To market your app properly, you need to determine what key metrics (key performance indicators or KPIs) need to be met in order for the app to be considered a “success.” There are a number of different KPIs that can be considered. These include impressions, clicks, and more.

 

What KPI You Should Use
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A business owner may find that reaching many of those KPIs can be an expensive endeavor. Some experts estimate that app marketing budgets can range anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 per month or more.

If your business doesn’t have the budget for an elaborate marketing push, there are still several things that you can do on a smaller scale to drive users to your app.

Tip 1: Visualize Through Social Media

There is no question that social media and apps go together in today’s digital world. In fact, the usage of social media apps in the United States continues to be quite robust, with the top apps maintaining a large number of users.

Top Used Apps
Source

Promoting your app on social media is a no-brainer. Your potential users are likely already on their devices, so it won’t take a lot of effort for someone who sees your social media post to install your app.

How you get user attention is key. There are numerous useful strategies for social media app promotion, but one major move is to get your audience’s attention through eye-catching visuals. 

With attention-spans shortening, your post needs to put a speed bump in the “social media superhighway” and make the user slow down.

Instagram, as seen above, averages nearly 117 million monthly users who do nothing but get attention through their photos and short videos. Considering "a photo is worth 1,000 words," an Instagram post should use a visual that puts your company or your brand in the user’s “space.”

For example, Aeronaut Brewing Company looked to engage with more female audience members by promoting International Women’s Day.

Aeronaut Brewing Company on Women's Day

That type of brand engagement on social media can pay dividends when looking to drive potential users to your mobile app.

Creating strong visuals can make a huge difference in the number of app installs you gain through organic social media promotion.

Tip 2: Go Viral with a Video

Piggybacking off the strong visual theme, a viral video is a popular, and inexpensive, way that you can promote your mobile app.

If done correctly, viral videos work. But there are a few things that your viral video will need to do to be successful:

  • Promote your brand well – The video needs to give viewers a positive feeling about your company if you want them to download your app
  • Evoke emotion – The most successful viral videos make us laugh, cry, or get angry about something. Without that emotional investment, your video will go straight to the “meh” category.
  • Have a clear call to action – You want the video to drive viewers to the Google Play or Apple App Store, so you have to make that connection in a crystal-clear manner. There should be no subtlety when it comes to your viral video’s overarching goal.

Be careful with your video’s audio, though. Remember that viral videos are mostly viewed through mobile devices, and mobile users don’t always have a quiet place to go or noise-canceling headphones at their disposal. With that in mind, if your video doesn’t make its point with the sound turned off, it isn’t going to get the job done.

Tip 3: Earned Media Matters

Well-placed words about your brand, and specifically your app, can drive potential users to an app store in search of an install. If your budget doesn’t allow you to pay for prime editorial placement, you can look to earned media to spread the word about your mobile app.

There are several types of earned media that can be beneficial to your app marketing efforts: 

Blogs: Often times, blogs are hungry for content that is useful and relevant to their audience. If a story about the benefits of your mobile app fits, you may be able to get a blogger to write about your app. Alternately, a well-written (but brief) blurb about your app might also be accepted by a blog site.

Press: Counting on a story in USA Today or the Wall Street Journal is like cashing in your 401(k) and using the money to buy lottery tickets—it could work out, but the odds are very small. Look to start much smaller by targeting local media and niche publications/sites that cover your industry. There is still no guarantee that your story will make the cut, but you have a much higher chance of success.

Awards: A good number of publications and websites have recognition programs that give awards to local businesses in any number of categories, from “Best Design” to “Most Innovative.” Finding award programs to which you can submit your app can be as simple as a Google search, and even just a mention as a finalist can pay dividends through the promotion of your mobile app.

Earned media isn’t a marketing effort that you have a lot of control over—you are at the mercy of the media outlets regarding what they will say, if anything, about your app or your business. However, according to Nielsen, earned media is one of the most trusted forms of promotion that your business can receive.
    

Tip 4: Plan an App Party

If you have the ability to focus on a specific geographic area, a simple app launch event can receive attention from the local community and the local media.

For example, the Splore team celebrated the official launch of their mobile app with “good people, good vibes, and good art” on Cinco de Mayo. They even shared some great information about what is involved in throwing a successful app launch event.

If your app has any type of draw for a local community, find out where those community members gather the most. That can provide a perfect location for your event—go where your potential customers are and pitch them when/where they are most comfortable.

Sometimes an incentive at an event can drive app usage. For example, a healthcare company in Washington, DC provided free water bottles filled with ice cold water at a summer tennis event. However, the only way to get the free water bottle was to download the company’s mobile “eVisit” app (and show the download to the people manning the water bottle station).

Your event strategy can be simple yet effective, if you put the time and effort into planning and execution.

Tip 5: Incentivize the Audience

Everyone loves free stuff. And giving free stuff to people who download and use your mobile app can be a simple and cost-effective (or cost-controlled) way to garner installs and usage.

The incentive to download and use your app does not need to be extravagant. For example, Chick-fil-A recently prompted people to download and use their mobile app by giving away free chicken nuggets. The company also fostered plenty of goodwill by offering the incentive to both new app downloaders and those who already had the app on their mobile devices.

Gamification is also a popular strategy to incentivize mobile app downloads and usage. For example, a recent article by The Manifest showed how restaurants use mobile app rewards programs to attract and retain customers. One great example is Starbucks, which offers a multitude of rewards for downloading and using the Starbucks app.

Starbucks Mobile App Rewards Program

Adopting a points-based system for using your mobile app can both attract new users/downloads while ensuring that those who install your app continue to use it regularly.

Finding Your Comfort Zone

You don’t have to spend a fortune to market your mobile app and get the attention of your target audience. There are a number of options for marketing your mobile app, and many promotional measures can be implemented within a modest post-development app budget. 

Using your existing social media presence to deliver sharp, on-point visual messaging can provide a cost-effective platform mobile app promotion. 

Keeping with the visual theme, a properly conceived viral video can promote your brand while driving potential users to your app download page. 

Seeking out earned media opportunities isn’t a guaranteed promotional success, but with the higher risk comes higher rewards due to the trust factor involved. 

An app launch event doesn’t have to be extravagant to be successful. A simple but effective event that squarely targets your audience can both attract new app users and attract media attention (which produces earned media opportunities).

Finally, offering an incentive to download and regularly use your app can both attract and retain digital customers, increasing your app’s ROI.

By following these 5 simple tips, you can successfully promote your app regardless of any budget constraints.
 

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